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View Diary: The Myth of Failing Schools (216 comments)

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  •  Still about the teachers (0+ / 0-)

    My perspective: I teach in a so-called 1st tier university. I have tutored high school and junior high school students for nearly 30 years.

    The vast majority of my college students are from comfortable, middle-class, white suburbs. And the vast majority of those students are extremely poorly prepared to do college-level work. About 70% are incapable of reading on a college level, cannot write a competent essay, haven't got the least inkling of basic historical information, are hobbled by limited vocabulary and, all-in-all, are profoundly mediocre students.

    When asked, I discover that their schooling didn't require them to write much, long ago gave up on trying to teach anything with depth (no Shakespeare, no Dickens, no Federalist Papers). Their teachers asked little of them, and they rose to that non-challenge. Not a semester goes by that I don't get some indignant freshman in my office, complaining that I gave them a B-, wailing, "But I was a straight-A honors student in high school."

    Surely some of this is attributable to the indubitable point of contact between their minds and the curriculum. We call that person the teacher. And all I see here is a perpetual nodding agreement that the one true thing is that the teacher can't possibly be any part of the problem. I emphatically disagree.

    If I, as a tutor, fail to help the kid master the material, they fire my ass. As would only be right—the buck stops with me.

    One of the best teachers I ever met told me his belief that the failure of any student reflected the teacher's failure to figure out how to to properly teach that student. And I saw this guy do amazing things with a class of uninterested (at first), African-American students in a crappy school in Watts (L.A.) in the 70s.

    One of the things I took away from this guy was the belief that expertise (which he had in spades) and common sense eventually trumps any amount of "education" school pseudo-science. So I guess the one excuse for the poor teaching is like Jessica Rabbit's: "I can't help it; they made me this way."

    •  IMO high school is becoming more boring... (4+ / 0-)

      and more and more kids check out, just jump thru the hoops and as John Holt famously said, "The good students forget the material after the test".

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

      by leftyparent on Sun Aug 28, 2011 at 08:57:48 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I think the idea that (7+ / 0-)

      "the failure of any student reflect[s] the teacher's failure to figure out how to to properly teach that student" is a useful paradigm for teachers to internalize, but is ultimately not useful when it comes to evaluating teachers and dealing with the problem of students' failure/refusal to do their work, learn, and behave properly.

      If a teacher adopts this as a normative principle, for herself, she will remain vigilant in developing a pedagogy that has a better chance of reaching more students. However, if administrators and parents adopt this principle, it eliminates the role of the learner in the learning process. Put simply, a student has little to no incentive to do his work and learn if he knows that the teacher, and not he, will be blamed for his failure.

      A teacher cannot directly control the everyday decision-making process and moment-to-moment risk-benefit analyses of 170 adolescents whom he sees for 45 minutes per day each. As I always put it to my students, I can give you the car, the keys, a road map and a tank full of gas, but you've got to get behind the wheel and drive. A teacher can create incentives for students to make intelligent, reasonable decisions, but ultimately the students have to be accountable for their own choices.

      When I was a teacher, 99% of the time, the first three words out of any student's mouth when she found out she failed because she did not submit required work, missed a deadline, broke a rule, &c. were, "I didn't know." Likewise, just as often, the parent's first words were, "She didn't know." This despite the fact that I put assignments on the board, on paper, on my website, and spoken aloud in class on a regular basis, and had all rules, requirements and standards published online and in a class Handbook, with a lot of them on posters on the classroom walls. Yet if the student "didn't know," the presumption is that I failed to take sufficient measures to make sure that she "knew," and I am therefore required to abrogate the requirement and the consequences of the student's action or forbearance. No expectation is placed on the student to "know" what she is required to do, let alone take steps to find out, and there are no consequences for "not knowing." As a result, students not only fail to "know," they actively try to not know.

      This is what I mean; I put the onus on myself to make sure students knew what was required of them, and took all reasonable steps, everything I could think of, to make sure that happened; that they had no reason not to "know." But at some point my responsibility ends. At some point it becomes unreasonable to blame me for students' recalcitrance and negligence. At some point, we have to turn to the student and say, this is now your responsibility. You have a duty to know what you're supposed to do, and if you don't, to find out.

      Whenever I had a student and/or parent complain, usually two months into the semester at Open School night, that he was "completely lost" or "confused" and had "no idea what's going on in class" and "doesn't know what he's supposed to do," I would ask one simple question:

      What have you done about it?

      At that point, usually, silence. Or evasion. Or an immediate change-of-subject. Because the answer was always "nothing." Because students, and parents, don't believe that they have to do anything in that situation.

      The learner has to participate in the learning process; the learner has to play a role in his own learning. The learner has to do things in order to learn.

      There are things teachers must do, and there are things learners must do. Learning cannot occur without both.

      •  oh how I feel your pain... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        angelajean

        Even if I make all the students in the room repeat due dates and assignments back to me, they still try to say they didn't know...

        this year has seemed a bit better than the rest, so far. we're two weeks in, and I'm trying to be optimistic with a brand new administrative team and several new teachers in the English department (including some from Teach for America that are on my 12th grade team).

        Education has always been a team endeavor...and all members of that team need to be working cooperatively to make sure it happens as it's supposed to.

        "There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them." - Joseph Brodsky

        by Shakespeares Sister on Sun Aug 28, 2011 at 10:06:26 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  maybe (0+ / 0-)

      Your personal experiences as an educator kind of prove the opposite of what you are trying to say. I have also taught, TA'd, and tutored at a couple of tier 1 universities. Some of the courses in which I have been involved were taught by truly exceptional and dedicated teachers, and the students were, of course, supposed to be the cream of the crop. Despite this, a lot still got C's, D's, and F's, even after being generous with the curve. I was shocked to discover how purportedly the brightest and most dedicated students, given the best teachers and the best resources, could still fail so miserably.

      My explanation for this is that most people are lazy morons. True, given direction people can achieve things, but the better the results we want, the better the teachers we need (and I bet the correlation is not linear). It would be nice if all teachers were as dedicated as the teacher you cite as an example. The reason why people on here don't point this out more is because this problem has such an easy, obvious fix: make the career of an educator a whole lot more attractive. Increase the pay and decrease the workload, and allow more teacher freedom. That way our best go into careers in education, and not to careers in Wall Street.

      Furthermore, we have to be realistic. We are not going to find exceptional teachers for every classroom; there aren't that many exceptional people out, in total. So I hate to be a downer, but I think we should be realistic in our expectations.

      •  I was one of those kids. (0+ / 0-)

        I did great in high school and then failed miserably in my first year in college, specifically in math and science which I tested in very well on the SAT and ACT.

        As a much older adult I have taught my own kids at home and I realized something about my own education. Many times in school, I memorized without understanding, especially concepts in math. It hurt my later understanding in more advanced mathematics classes. I also learned that I am a whole brained learner; my kids are right-brained learners. Most teachers and curriculums are aimed at left-brained learners. What a shock to find that out after all these years. I understand math better now at 44 than I did at 18. I might even tackle calculus again knowing what I know today.

        My point is - not everyone is lazy. Some of us just don't understand how we learn and we find it very difficult to learn in a standard setting. Once we find the key, life is so much better. But so many of us never find that key. Especially when we are labeled stupid at some point in the process.

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