12 March 2010

Needed: New Expectations

If you were to make a graph of the appropriate closeness of a teacher to a student, it would be inversely proportionate to the academic abilities of the student. Therefore, the more academically capable the student, the more relational distance to their teacher. This could be partially due to the number of students in general education classes, versus a resource room versus a student in a one-on-one situation.

Consider how much a teacher knows about a student's family of home life. The ONLY pet-peeve I have of general education teachers is when they assume that all students are coming into their classes from the same starting point; that the only determining factor on student success is how the student has chosen to participate in class. Last year, I overheard a teacher complaining about one of my alternative education students in the Teachers' Lounge that this student was choosing not to focus or accomplish any work in class that day. I told this teacher that the student had been kicked out of their house the previous night and came into school that morning after sleeping on the train tracks. The teacher had no response, and I don't blame them.

After getting over my initial annoyance with the teacher, I realized that the education system is not conducive to teachers getting to know their students. The expectation is to teach the content, raise the test scores, enforce the school policies, and not sleep with the students. How are teachers supposed to touch the lives of their students when the high schools resemble university lecture halls more than classrooms? A teacher may connect with 5-10 of the 150-200 students that come into their classrooms throughout the day. You place more than 25 kids in a classroom, and the teacher becomes a ring leader in a circus managing what is going on in class instead of guiding the education of children.

We have placed the weight of raising test scores on the shoulders of teachers who hope to create a love of learning in their students. We expect teachers to raise our kids for us; to teach them what they need to know instead of how to find it for themselves. Teachers are expected to teach effectively without giving an education. The expectation needs to shift to think of them as educators who give students the tools to learn and succeed at life. We want teachers to give children the fish of data without educating them as to how to fish for knowledge. We want our children to be able to duplicate so they can pass the next test or quiz, but we do not want to open the world to them and let them discover, explore, and create.

I do not believe that class size is the answer, nor do I believe that it is a matter of funding. The expectations of what learning is, and what educators need to do, needs to shift. We have turned the school day into the drudgery of the work day. Students have become more of a cog in the social machine, when they need to learn who they are and how to grow into contributing citizens. I am not from the school of thought that believes ALL kids should be successful on the same level. I hated having a losing season, and still getting a trophy for participation. If students are always given false success, then they grow to believe that they deserve it, and the sense of entitlement grows inside of them. Students need to experience the joys of achieving real success, which means thet need to learn the lessons of real failure. Students will not be educated if we do not shift our expectations to cultivate learning instead of test scores.


Brett said...

Great post Joe. As a general ed teacher, I live this reality everyday and it can get down-right depressing. For me, it's a matter of valuing the individual time that I can find with each student in the midst of leading the circus.

Joe B. said...

Thanks Brett. This post was more of a rant than I wanted to have on this blog, but I think when you talk about education in this state and nation, your feelings can stew for a bit, and it boils over after a while. (I'm just full of analogies)