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.