Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Teachers/ ills of society

On the August "Start a new post" Anonymous wrote:

"I am not sure if this has been posted here before. It is an insightful, witty, sad & honest piece Brock Jones wrote. He is a LA public school teacher.

"Teachers Cannot Cure the Ills Of Society"



Questioner said...
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Questioner said...

(correcting typos)

So what is the best advice a teachers' academy could give the clearly well-meaning teacher who wrote this article?

Not just in general terms, like "change your thinking" but very specifically in terms of what this teacher should do to reach the students he describes.

Anonymous said...

The title says it all. "Teachers cannot change the ills of society." No one, "clearly well-meaning teachers" included, can do anything that they do not believe they can do_____there is nowhere to go after you have made that "cannot" statement_____"very specifically" or in any other terms.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:47:

Excellent example of blaming teachers! All it takes is a word in a headline about teachers for you to diagnose the problem. If only they hadn't used that word, things would be great. Sigh. It's kind of like the think method -- if only teachers of difficult students would *think* the right things at the right time, while reading their scripted lessons, all would be well. Right?

Questioner said...

The header of the blog post (Teachers/ ills of society) was purposeful- forget the "cannot". Let's say a very positive, can-do teacher has students of the kind described in the article. The teacher believes there is always a solution but needs help identifying it. What specific advice does a teachers' academy or a successful, experienced colleague give to that teacher?

Anonymous said...

Think___believe___act____ using best judgment____is what we do in challenging times____hopefully.

Questioner said...

Maybe some teachers can let us know if acting in their best judgment has been enough to reach the kind of students described in this article, or the students at an assembly described in the Kansas City Star article in an earlier post. It would seem like that judgment would need to be informed by certain skills and techniques, and it would be good to hear about those as well. It would also seem that we should meet teachers halfway by doing everything possible to address the social problems of the students walking into the classroom.

Questioner said...
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Questioner said...

To make it easier to get to specific techniques, let's look at specific problems:

1) Student does not come to class. Each week the student misses one or more days of school. How does the teacher enable that student to perform at the same level as students who come to class each day?

2) Student does not do homework, even for only 20 minutes. How does the teacher enable that student to perform at the same level as students who are willing to practice/ reinforce skills learned that day? Note: assume that the curriculum plan is built around some homework each days and the teacher must follow the curriculum.

Mark Rauterkus said...

The student in the article was quoted,

"He nodded and smirked. "I like drugs."

Then the teacher sorta went blank. It wasn't the answer he was looking for, but here are a few comeback replies, dude.

Ever hear of pharmacy?

I think we should legalize more drugs. Ever hear of libertarians?

Do you know how drugs work within your body?

What kind of drugs? Roids?

- - - -

I am not sure that the teacher should enable the student to perform at the same level as students who come to class each day.

Questioner said...

Well, when the student shows up at the end of the year to take the PSSA or a graduation exam and does not pass is the teacher held accountable? Will lack of attendance be taken into consideration or will it be dismissed as an excuse? Future administrators will remark that the school has been failing students like this for a decade or more. Maybe so but has the school failed the student in terms of teaching, or something else such as obtaining appropriate social services (hard to do when social workers and counelors leave and are not replaced)?

Anonymous said...

To answer your question, Questioner, YES, the teachers are held accountable for the performance on tests, regardless of how much the students have shown up throughout the school year.

Depending on the audience, everything that a teacher states as a reason for poor performance is seen as an "excuse". All you have to do it listen to Marty on the KDKA talk show in the morning to know that all teachers do is make excuses!

I read a letter in the post-gazette this summer that ended by saying that teachers don't want to be held accountable for their failures.


I was so angry when I read that because it is so far from the truth. We do want to be accountable. We just want the measurement to be something that actually makes sense.

A colleague told me this analogy one time and it holds true...

If a doctor tells a patient the following: exercise, eat right, don't smoke because all of them could cause you to die and the patient decides to not follow doctor's orders, no one holds the doctor accountable. It is the patient's poor choices that are to blame. But, when a teacher tells students that in order to do well in school they have to: come to school, do classwork & homework, participate, be on time and they decide to not follow the teacher's "orders", the teacher is held accountable or "blamed". That is the trend right now in education nationwide. It will eventually change as everything in education goes full circle. However, I fear that a lot of good teachers are going to be lost in the process.

Questioner said...

Well then here's an idea:

The Pittsburgh Promise will only be awarding scholarships to students with 90% attendance. How about similarly holding teachers responsible only for the progress of students with 90% attendance? At the very least, if a teacher is told that his/her students have not made enough progress- break out the results for students who were there 90% of the time versus those who were not. Why not bring this approach to the union?

This approach might also be helpful in determining if a school is really failing its students- what are the proficiency and advanced rates of students w/ 90% attendance v. those w/ less than 90% attendance? Instead of teaching academies should we spend the money to increase attendance? There could be incentives to attend (like the payments received by students in one of the summer programs), more truant officers, or "chasers" like the ones described in another post.

Anonymous said...

Questioner - great ideas.

However, I fear you are still not getting it. Teachers are blamed for students not coming too! You can only blame the people you actually pay.

One theory that gets thrown around a lot is that teachers do not make instruction interesting enough, so the kids don't come.

I heard a parent, who had their kid leave EVERY day, say that we should block every door so her child could not leave - why were we "letting him/her out"! She did her job getting him/her there.

Another parent, despite her child insisting that he/she chose to leave daily, argued that her child left because the teachers were not teaching him/her "right".

We just cannot win. I had a student many years ago whose parent blamed us for his poor attendance. Since I lived in the same neighborhood, I offered to pick him up every morning and bring him with me. The parent and student said no.

Unless one has faced these challenges on a daily basis, and been blamed for them on a yearly basis, and dealt with the emotional frustration of doing everything one knows to do and it still not working, they cannot possibly understand the challenge urban educators face.

I would never fool myself into thinking I could tell someone who went to school to earn a college degree in an area other than mine (law, medicine, accounting, etc.)how to do their job. So, my question is why do so many non-educators (thinking of Gates, Broad, Roosevelt, some parents, some community members, many of the people who create educational policies) think they can understand what goes on in an urban district or school and think they can tell a teacher how to teach and deal with the daily challenges???

Questioner said...

Still, some data on the performance of students who attend 90% of the time would be very valuable. It would be difficult to blame a particular teacher for causing a student to skip an entire day. The focus of the debate might change if we saw that 90+% of students that attend 90+% of classes succeed.

Anonymous said...

Getting a student to be in school 90% of the time does not solve the problem. If he is not ready to take in what is being taught to him even the best teacher in the world stands little chance of getting a lesson across. You can lead a horse to water but can't make him drink (even if you threaten the rider!!!)

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:53 pm

Excellent analogy!

Questioner said...

It may not solve the problem but it would be a good start!