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

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  •  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-)
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      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 ]

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