Monday, June 05, 2006

It's been said before...

We've debated who to blame for student failure, and the truth, at least for me, is that responsibility falls sometimes onto the student and sometimes onto the teacher or system. In fact, today I took faux responsibility for student failure. I had a substitute last week that had to deal with a very rowdy class. I told my class that I accept responsibility for not effectively instructin them on how to act like mature high school students.
Dennis Fermoyle writes, "I have taught and coached at Warroad High School for sixteen years. During those sixteen years, I have found that any student who comes and takes classes here will get a good education as long as she has a desire to learn and a willingness to make an honest effort" (In the Trenches, 15). Certainly, some schools underperform and contribute to student failure. But, our society has to be willing to look first at the student when failure occurs.

When I coached Little League Baseball, I took a team of players that were largely made up of cast off players. The other teams had been formed the year before and were only drafting a couple of players. I had a team of three return players and eight new players. Most of these kids were not that talented. It was the second team I had coached. The year prior, I coached a younger group of players. I made a lot of progress with those players so I knew I had the ability to take players and teach them the game. But, many of my players, a bit older than the year previous, had already begun to lose interest in the game in addition to not being very talented.
We struggled to win games. I didn't have good players.
The same can be said for schools. Sometimes we don't have good students. Their interest has already begun to falter in addition to not being very diligent. Sometimes we need to admit that our students are not as good. That doesn't mean we don't teach them. It doesn't mean we lower our standards. It means we take responsibility when we are responsibile. We must be willing to approach the possibility that we, the teacher or system, have failed, and we must be willing to approach the possibility that they, the students or parents, have failed.


At 1:22 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. McNamar, I can't argue with a word you say. What concerns me is that teachers have been too willing to accept blame when we shouldn't, and we've not been willing enough point out the good things we've done.

Many teachers are very selfless people, which I think, accounts for our willingness to accept the blame for all students who fail. But we can't afford to do that anymore. All that does is feed the public education bashers. There are a lot of people out there claiming that public education is nothing but a disaster, and they are being listened to. It seems like more and more people are taking their kids out of public schools and sending them to private schools or homeschooling them. You are right by making the point that we need to acknowledge our real flaws. We need to do that in order to be credible. But it's even more important that we start doing a better job standing up for ourselves.

At 5:18 PM , Blogger Christine said...

It's been a hard road for me, but I have realized that I can only control but so much. No matter how hard I try or push or coddle or wheedle, without some effort on the part of the student and/or parent, I will not be successful in reaching everyone.

This year, I have a student in one of my classes who is completely competent and capable of doing the required work. He made other choices. I modified assignments that he felt were "too difficult" (he has writing issues, I tried to overcome them - he was having none of it), I contacted the parents, I required him to stay after school (lucky for him his mother more often than not said he didn't have to stay no matter what anyone (me or the principal) said), I celebrated every small accomplishment, I badgered, I stepped back...I lost count of the strategies used on this one student (and I was not alone, the other teachers on my team were having the same problems).

We had a parent conference (perhaps the 9th one we had, and it was only March) where it all became crystal clear to me. His mother sat there and said that she was okay with his failing grades in my class because it was an advanced class. She made excuses for her son regarding missing assignments, behavior problems, being disrespectful to teachers and administrators. He sat in that meeting and heard her make the excuses. His mother then asked us what we were going to do now that none of what we'd done so far was working.

One of my team members listed all of the strategies we'd tried (the list is much longer than the one I've posted here), and said he felt we'd pretty much run through our bag of tricks. He reiterated that in every class the student's issues ran to lack of effort or even the appearance of caring. Finally, the assistant principal spoke up and said that the only person who could change the situation was her son. That the school had done what it could, that her son didn't seem remotely concerned with what was going on at school and that if he didn't change his level of effort, nothing was going to change.

Not only did nothing change, his behavior and grades have taken a marked turn for the worse since that meeting. He knows, if he didn't before, that his mother will support him no matter what he does.

I'm sad that this child and his parents have made him into a perpetual victim who sees no need to take any kind of responsibility, but I'm not losing any sleep over it. I know I did everything within my power to help him.

I've blathered on and on, but I'm getting to my point. What do we do when parents and students insist on blaming teachers when there's been little to no effort on their part to improve the situation?


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