Holding Teachers Accountable

Before I get going on the rant I have planned for today, I’d like to share this little tidbit, cut-and-pasted verbatim (with the exception of my name) from a student’s evaluation of our course:

Mrs. Chili outline and exprees good needs to lrean the best ways in communicated expectations for building speechs and dlivering speechs.

Sigh. CLEARLY, I didn’t, now, did I?

So, as the topic for a persuasive speech, one of my students chose to speak in favor of strengthening the No Child Left Behind Act. This student has a child in the public school system and feels that the child is being under-served by his teachers. The student argued against the practice that some school systems have of lumping the under-achieving students in a special “other” group which, if I’m understanding the gist of the speech, produces portfolios instead of participating in the standardized testing in order to demonstrate the achievement that NCLB requires. According to this speaker, the more advanced students in public schools get all the attention, the middling students are pretty much left to their own devices, and the poor students are foisted off with pointless busy-work that they can do well so that cute little portfolios can be put together and presented to the people who oversee such things. To hear this argument, one would imagine that no real learning is done by anyone but the brightest kids.

The upshot of this student’s speech is that the teachers need to be held accountable for the performance of their students – even more so than they already are. Students who perform poorly or who fail to make adequate yearly progress should be, according to this student, an indication that the teacher is failing.

To a certain extent, I agree. If a teacher is consistently at the head of under-performing classes, then he or she ought to be subject to a certain amount of professional scrutiny to determine if the problem lies with the teacher or his or her methods or his or her preparation (or lack thereof). I welcome my colleagues into my classroom; I WANT that kind of observation and constructive feedback and I LIKE collaborating with my colleagues about things like activities, assessments, and what I can do to make my classroom a more engaging, more productive learning environment. Even if my classes are going well, I welcome my fellow professionals into my environment because I know that their being there is going to be helpful to me as a teacher.

Let me add, however, that I take serious issue with the assumption that a poor student is necessarily the product of a poor teacher. While I will never claim that I’ve “got it” – that I’ve reached the pinnacle of my profession and don’t need any more workshops or education or critique – I will say that I’m a pretty damned good teacher right now. I care about my discipline; I think it’s important, and I want to share my love of language with my students. I care about my students and I want to have a part in giving them what they need to be successful and self-sufficient in the world. I strive to behave in a way that will make other people think well of teachers in general – I am ethical and professional, I come to class prepared, I am fair in my dealings with students, and I consistently strive to learn more so that I have more to share.

All that being said, am I to be held accountable for the student in my class who earned a 38.6 grade point average this semester? How is “accountability” to be determined, and who is going to be making the decisions about where the line of responsibility is drawn? If I meet all of the goals set out in my syllabus, the contract of the class (and, in fact, exceed those standards by making myself available to my students outside of class, or giving them my personal cell phone number and email address) and students still fail spectacularly, does this reflect poorly on my skills and professionalism?

I guess what I’m asking here is have we slipped past the point of expecting that students take some personal responsibility for their own success or failure? How does a failing student – especially an adult student who signs up for a class and agrees to the terms of the syllabus from the outset- become MY responsibility? Have we made some subtle shift between the idea that learning is an active process on the part of the learner rather than a passive activity where a student expects to sit back and have content poured into them without their having to actually do anything?

It’s bad enough that I beat myself up over the kids I can’t reach; I don’t need someone else blaming me for their failures, too.

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26 Comments

Filed under bad grammar, concerns, critical thinking, dumbassery, ethics, failure, frustrations, General Griping, Learning, politics, Questions, self-analysis, speaking, Teaching, Yikes!, You're kidding...right?

26 responses to “Holding Teachers Accountable

  1. kizzbeth

    I didn’t see the speech performed so I can’t say if the student was attacking your methods and successes specifically but it seems as though you’re taking it as a direct hit. I think the situation is extremely different when we speak of young students and when we speak of adult students. What I don’t know is where in the process of students becoming adult we teach them the necessary skills to take responsibility for their part of their own education.

  2. No, I’m not taking this student’s speech personally AT ALL – in fact, this was one of my better students and she WAS talking specifically about public schools and the education of very young people.

    The speech touched a nerve for me, though, because I DO care about whether my students succeed or fail; and, especially in this litigious society (see the post a few entries down about the kid suing the school because she failed a course), I worry that I eventually WILL be brought to task about a student’s dismal performance. I keep meticulous records, I keep copies of every bit of correspondence I have with my students, and I make sure that my superiors are aware of every situation in which there’s even a HINT of acrimony. I’m still not sure that’s enough, though, and I fear we’re taking a very bad path by not holding students to reasonably stringent standards.

  3. I don’t know why I am always shocked by a student’s failure to take responsibility for their performance in school but I always am. I don’t think teachers have slipped past the point of expecting students to be responsible. I think that lies with parents and administrators who don’t want to deal with those parents.

    I believe that as teachers, our part of teaching them personal responsibility comes in giving them the grade they deserve and not the grade they want or expect.

    Then again, how do you teach personal responsibility with a straight face when a CEO can run a corporation into the ground and still get millions of dollars as a bonus.

  4. If I recall correctly, this is one issue people have with one element of Obama’s education proposals. Part of his plan would reward exceptional teachers and punish (read “fire”) unsuccessful ones. While I don’t have a problem with that idea in and of itself, it begs the question of “How do you determine the success or failure of the teacher?” By the performance of the student? How? How do you determine how much of the students’ success or failure was the responsibility of the teacher and how much was the responsibility of the student?

  5. sphyrnatude

    the answer is actually pretty simple – Universities already do it. Let the students (or in the k-12 arena) the parents select what teacher their kids get.

    The parents that care about education will make sure their kids get a good teacher. The parents that admit that their kid needs “special attention” (and care) will make sure that their kid lands with a teacher who has a record of success with special kids. The parents of “smart kids” will make sure their kids get the teacher that challenges the kids.

    Of course, for this to work, a kid that fails to master the curriculum has to be held back to repeat it (which will require some sort of standardized skills assessment) . If not, too many parents will place their kids in the “advanced” teachers classes. Of course, this will also force parents to recognize that their kid may not be the Einstein….

    The other result is that the teachers that simply can not teach the material will end up with either no students, or the students whose parents simply don’t care. Social Darwinism for the parents that don’t care. Loss of employment for the teacher that can’t teach.

    Sounds a lot like personal responsibility, doesn’t it….

  6. I’ve had this comment open since about 5 this morning because I know I have a thought on this but can’t seem to find the words for it, especially in succinct fashion.

    Here’s the super short version. I believe that most people have become a “push” audience. They are spectators in nearly every aspect of life, including the very things where they should be taking an active part.

    Parents watch their children go to school but do little, if anything, to help with the actual education of their kids.

    Kids go to school and watch teachers and expect to be entertained. Infotainment, which requires no feedback from the viewer, is the “learning” process of choice. “Show me, entertain me, but don’t expect me to put out any effort.”

    Teachers are somehow expected to overcome this belief system. It can’t be done. Either people want to take responsibility for their lives and their education or they don’t. Teachers should certainly be held responsible but kids (including (especially?) college kids) have to learn that they are in control of their results in life. Anything else is a disservice.

  7. drtombibey

    I remember a weary teacher at the end of a long day. I was the last parent at the parent/teacher conferences. She asked how much home-work I thought was appropriate. At the time my boy was in the 4th grade.

    I said, “Ma’am. I am a doctor and not an educator, so I don’t know for sure. But I tell you what. You tell them how much they need to do and I’ll see to it they get it done.”

    I got along great with that teacher, and my kids did fine.

    We were not rich, but a country Doc in a small town is somewhat ‘high profile.’ (ie a big fish in a small pond) I knew my kids could have felt too privileged if I had allowed it, so I was tough on them. I had to be. Joe DiMaggio once said a rich kid never got to the majors, and I wanted mine to realize if they were to amount to anything they’d have to work.

    Dr. B

  8. Generally, by the time they get to us in college, it’s almost too late. I have had some (rare) students make exceptional turnarounds in the area of grabbing their education. But, more and more, they expect to sit there and absorb the material like a sponge. I cannot think of any discipline where that would really work, but it definitely won’t work in computer science.

    As for the lower grades, I am trying to understand what changed in the 30 some-odd years since I was in high school. My parents NEVER told me to do my homework, never asked me or my siblings about it, yet I did just fine.

    My peers here who regularly hire software developers have told me that it is becoming increasingly harder to find anyone who graduated in the last 5 to 10 years who will put forth the effort to get the job done. When I saw it in my classes, I wrote it off as being in a less stringent college. But, if they are seeing it across the board, then it isn’t my imagination. It’s pervasive.

    As for holding teachers accountable, the commenter above is spot on; how exactly does one design a system that really ferrets out the best and the worst teachers? Teachers have no control over whether a child has gotten enough sleep, eats breakfast, or has parents who at least tell them school matters.

    Sorry for the rambling vent. I feel helpless against the problem.

  9. Our district offers bonus pay each quarter to teachers whose students perform well on benchmark assessments. Specifically, if 75% of a teacher’s students pass the assessment with a 60% or better, the teacher gets several hundred extra dollars on the next paycheck.

    I teach special ed students. My seventh-graders read at about a third-grade level. They couldn’t even read the benchmark assessment, let alone pass it. The highest score was 52%, the lowest 18%.

    No bonus pay for me. Ever.

    Does that mean I’m an ineffective teacher? No, it simply means that the district is expecting the impossible.

    • Jackie

      It seems to me that you are more concerned with the bonus rather then the education of the students you are to be teaching… Expecting the impossible.. Wow I’m baffled that as a teacher you would state that.. I am almost sorry for the kids that are being taught by you.. I really hope that your attitude changes for the sake of your students..

  10. sphyrnatude

    I have to agree with saintseester. 20 years ago I was active in primary research. I spent the following 10 years working in high tech – mostly software. I returned to academia about 8 years ago, and found that the students had a completely different attitude – they had no interest in actually doing more than sitting in class listening, and expected to “learn” the material without any further effort.

    I initially wrote it off because I was (like saintseester) at a less stringent school. Then, I had a reason to go back to my old University, and spend a few days with the students in my old lab. I found the same attitude there. Discussions with other faculty members (at both schools) suggested that there HAS been a change in what students expect in the past decade or so.

    Students expect to be entertained. Education is secondary to their not being bored, challenged, or being in a situation where they may not be able to figure things out with very little effort. Of course, there are exceptions. Unfortunately most (not all, but most) are not from the USA.

    Something is deeply flawed – not just with education, but with a culture that thinks that they
    are entitled to an easy life. I don’t know the root of this problem, but it is endemic in the first world.

  11. 1st year teacher

    When are the students going to be held accountable for their performance? Our schools would be flooded with students staying back if they were unable to prove their responsibility. Just because a student fails the exam, does not mean the teacher failed to teach it.
    As a first year teacher, this negative attitude radiating from students does not jive with the differentiated, cooperative learning community I worked months to put in place. I can’t put on a song and dance everyday according to the admin. I’m teaching basic skills reading and writing in my social studies class instead of helping students learn from and about the past. Perhaps the problem lies in the desires of politicians instead of teachers who want to teach. I’m quickly getting overwhelmed with this culture, and find it difficult to see myself continuing this career path today.

  12. kyle stout

    I think you are arrogant. You never outgrow the need for criticism, peer review or suggestions on how to be better. If the students are failing it could also be because they are not engaged or do not feel as though you are providing them with the proper individual approach. These are children and you are the adult. You are paid a great deal of money every year to work fewer annual hours and it is about time you came to the realization that people expect performance. If you were working in the real world you would be fired if you could not produce results. Why would you expect any different just because you are a “Teacher”. You should be afforded no special protection from what the real world considers to be acceptable.
    Get over yourself and go get a job outside the teaching profession, unless you are afraid you can’t succeed.

    • through the eyes of a student...

      I am a high school student. Growing up, I have seen so many classmates who don’t care about school and don’t want to learn. It frustrates me to see that because I have always loved school and when my peers aren’t getting their homework done and don’t even make an effort to understand the content it slows me down from learning what I want to learn. I remember seeing every teacher I ever had from Grades K-8 completely exasperated with all of the disruptions, missing homework and poor marks that are common place in today’s public schools. Some teachers are more effective at dealing with these issues than others, but even the very best educators cannot force a child to learn. That has to come from the student. So instead of sitting around arguing about if the teacher has done their job, let’s get kids caring again. Let’s target them when their young and show them that learning is a fun and amazing thing. I have my parents to thank for teaching me that vital lesson before I ever set foot in a classroom, but since it does indeed “take a village to raise a child”, let’s all get involved. Let’s get more support out there for parents who aren’t sure what to teach. Let’s encourage a love of learning in preschools and the early years of a child’s education. Because if we can give them those strong values now, they will do the rest down the road.

  13. through the eyes of a student...

    You’re welcome Mrs. Chilli. If we are going to discuss education, the student’s voice needs to be heard and heard loudly. That’s my opinion anyway… I might be just a little biased :)

    I am writing a policy brief for school on whether or not teachers should be held accountable for students who don’t experience academic success. I found your post looking for sources. As I’m sure you can already tell, I don’t think it’s the teacher’s fault whatsoever if student’s aren’t taking the time to learn what is being taught. I mean, there are terrible teachers out there, but for the most part it is the student’s choice whether or not they learn anything from a class.

    • Here’s the thing, though; there ARE terrible teachers out there, but I think that the problem is far more essential than that.

      The truth of it is that, in general, we’re not teaching in a way that’s engaging and dynamic (and those of us who try to teach like that are very often shut down). We have a responsibility to try to reach our students. While I DON’T think that we have a responsibility to ENTERTAIN our students, I do think that the traditional model of age-segregated, time-limited, texts and desks classrooms is completely outdated. Those things belong in the era of mass-production education of the sort that was in vogue during the Industrial Era.

      If we’re going to have a truly educated public, we have to be far more dynamic than that. We have to engage students in critical thinking, we have to get them to understand why these skills are vital to their success, and we need them to feel empowered to make choices and decisions for themselves. That means, for a lot of people, setting aside ego; we have to encourage students to question, and that means questioning us, too. I’m all for that (ask my students – and my children), but a lot of people – too many, I think – are threatened by any kind of challenge to their own thinking.

      • through the eyes of a student...

        Hi there! Sorry, I’ve been meaning to reply for a while now but I’ve been super busy lately. And Kyle, I understand your point of view but can you please respect ours now? Thank you.

        Mrs. Chilli, I agree with you that you are not obligated to entertain your students. You are not a performer, you are a teacher, and you shouldn’t be asked to fill all of these other roles in a child’s life that you are not responsible for.

        Personally, I am still comfortable with age groupings and time limits in classrooms, but this is because that is what I’ve grown up with. I can imagine how it would work and if we were to start now with younger children in changing how we look at education, they would never know the difference between that and the model we’ve known and it and be an easy transition.

        We definitely need to reintroduce the encouragement of critical thinking into our schools. Younger kids don’t typically question what teachers say is right because “they’re the adult” but it would be nice to see that change and have kids feel more comfortable asking questions of those in authority. Because if we don’t question what others are doing we are never going to improve the world from how it is right now.

  14. kyle stout

    Teachers always blame someone else, the students, the parents, etc…… Teachers are today teaching because they can’t make it in the real world and need union protection to keep a job.

    • through the eyes of a student...

      Please don’t say that, Kyle. Some of the most hardworking, dedicated people I have ever met are teachers.

  15. Would there be anything I could say to you, Kyle, that would actually engage you in a dialogue about this topic? I suspect not.

  16. Pingback: Quick Hit: This | A Teacher's Education

  17. Heide

    As a postsecondary Instructor I have been informed that if I have absenteeism in my theory class, then I will be held accountable for ALL of it, because it will mean I am not “edu-taining” them properly.

    Even their prized company of instruction that teaches us to be more effective Instructors admits that a minimum of 10% of students will refuse to be educated NO MATTER WHAT.. This is true..

    So who learns the students? Who is responsible for forcing someone to learn? I can give the info, I can give them toys and projects, but who can force the student to CHOOSE to learn!? We give more tolerance to addicts! We tell them “Oh, when you’re ready we’ll help.

    A teacher who was giving a speech relayed this story: “A 13 yr old girl refused a year long project in my class. All year I coached her, coaxed her, gave her extra supplies, and all but begged her to attempt the effort. Once the class came to an end I finally asked her ‘I realize you aren’t going to do this project.. Can I ask you why? What kept you from trying?’ Her reply was ‘Well, if I did it, it wouldn’t be very good.. And I would fail.. But if I DON’T do it? You fail.”

    If you don’t think these kids aren’t recognizing that they can get away with that kind of behavior? You’re DEAD wrong.. They are hyper-aware that their refusal to learn or participate will not reflect on them. THAT reflection falls on the teacher.. Period..

  18. Jackie

    So many comments on here are in favor of the teacher being held unaccountable for the student in which they are teaching.. I find it alarming… You are teaching children and yet some of you are throwing tantrums like a child because you are being called out… I 100% think that a teacher should be held accountable for their students… I am not saying that every child you teach should have straight A’s… I am saying that you have every available resource to figure out why a child is not preforming the same as the mass majority… And it is your responsibility to address it and put a plan into motion so that the child can perform to highest of their ability.. I had a teacher once tell me that I needed to spend an hour a day one on one with my kids to work on their reading, spelling etc… I found that to be the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard… I have taught my kids how to feed theirselves, dress theirselves and use the bathroom amoung many other things… Because as a parent that is my job and responsibility… As a teacher it is yours to teach.. You spend 8 hours a day, 5 days a week with my child.. Who is it you would blame if my child were to come to class not knowing how use the bathroom or feed himself? Is it my child’s fault? Or mine as a parent? It is nothing but arrogance to think that you are not at fault for a child’s poor preformance… I have seen a child repeat kindergarten and the teacher wanted to have her repeat again except she was over the age to do so.. That is appalling.. The child had a learning disorder and instead of addressing it the teacher just wanted her to repeat… Please tell me how the teacher should not be held accountable for that? Plain and simple you are the adult and you are trained in the profession of being a child educator… it is your job to ensure that your student gets the most out of their time with you… And it’s your job to figure out why they are falling behind.. Stop blaming parents, stop blaming the student and start taking responsibility.. This is a profession you picked..I’m sure because you wanted to teach.. So do just that.. Teach.. There are so many kids that are just bored in the classroom… Bored with the work or simply trying their hardest but have a learning disability that no one has addressed…. These are all areas that you as a teacher should be able to address and deal with… all kids are different and how they learn sometimes just doesn’t fit into the cookie cut text book classroom… What you do about accepting that and how you choose to do deal with it will have a lasting impression on the children who’s lives you’ve walled in on…and in closing.. I want to say that I am not here to bash a teacher… I am absolutely not trying to do that.. I just feel that so many teachers have become numb and their day to day is no longer a passion but merely a job for a paycheck…That so many have forgotten why they became a teacher to begin with… In the blog itself I feel like the author felt like the speech was a personal attack… Especially in going out of the way to say they were a pretty damned good teacher.. So to me the blog turned from a debate… to the author looking for people to agree and validate their opinion…

    • Jackie, parenting and teaching are not the same activities. You are clearly not a professional educator, and while I respect the point you’re trying to make, I think that you’re missing a great deal of the nuance of this conversation. No one – NO ONE – is saying that teachers shouldn’t be held accountable for the success of their classroom.

      That being said, there are a lot of factors – all of which are WELL beyond the teacher’s control – that play into whether a student does “well” in a class (up to and including the idea that the concept of success varies wildly on a number of different matrices). Young people are not automatons (which, if you’re a parent, you know). NO teacher can reach EVERY child, and as kids get older and exercise their autonomy, getting them to engage can be a very tricky business. In fact, I’ve had students tell me, flat out, that they just don’t care and won’t do the work. Do I have some responsibility to that? Sure I do; I want to engage my kids and make them want to participate. Is it my job to entertain them to the point that they’ll buy in? No, it is not.

      You make the point that students are often bored or have needs that aren’t addressed. Yes; I agree! Teachers, however, are nearly powerless to deal with these issues on an individual basis anymore; standardized curriculum and the breakneck pace with which it’s implemented means that teachers don’t have time to get to know their students and recognize the needs that aren’t being met. You seem, as well, to assume a lot about the kind of autonomy that teachers are afforded in the classroom; most classroom teachers I know tell me that they have NO choice – not only about WHAT they teach, but also HOW and WHEN they teach it. The current mania for standardization and “accountability” have removed nearly all vestiges of teacher autonomy from the equation.

      My big point here, which I think you may have missed, is that the system of education has taken most of the responsibility for a child’s education AWAY from the child and put it on the teachers. Parents aren’t supportive of teachers anymore. Children aren’t held to any kind of standard; if the kid fails, it’s not the KID’S fault, it’s the teachers’. That’s the wrong way to look at these problems, and it’s something that I don’t see being addressed in any meaningful kind of way.

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