Monday, April 7, 2014

Teachers: the new Scape-Goat for Poor Education

If students are not learning and passing with good grades, it’s the teacher’s fault.  Right!?

I am a pastor.  I am also a teacher, an adjunct professor for a local private Christian university.  I’ve seen my share of good and bad students.  And, of course, there are good and bad teachers as well.  It goes without saying that teaching is both an art and a science.  So is parenting or even pastoring for that matter.

Consider the art of parenting for a moment.  In my lifetime, short or long as it may seem, I’ve seen bad children rise out of what seemed to have been very good parents.  I’ve also seen very good children come out of what were clearly very, very bad parents.  Thus, being a good parent gives no guarantee that the child will come out good, though it certainly favors such an outcome.

In short, be it in parenting or in teaching, positive results are not guaranteed.  The whole process—requiring attentive engagement, listening, responding, understanding and applying lessons given and lessons received—is a two-way street.  And it is personal—a personal choice of attitude, will, desire and interest, motivation, responsiveness, and action—the all too volatile human factor.  In short, whether we’re speaking of poor students or bad children, it is not always the fault of the teacher or the parent.

Teaching is complicated by many things.  Poor diet, broken homes, family dysfunctions, the culture of poverty, racism, classism, and so many, many more negative and conflicting dynamics make teaching in an inner city environment, for example, quite difficult, if not next to impossible.

The most complex variable is the human factor itself, the very subject who is to be taught and/or raised.  Variable personalities and temperaments, variable learning styles and learning rates, variable comprehension levels, not to mention the variety of interests, wants, and needs, when considering educational outcomes and directional placement in relation to vocational training and/or specialized academic tracks, for example.  In short, when it comes to educating human beings, one size does not fit all.

Flexibility, adaptability, personalization, risk taking, trial and error, inventiveness, creativeness, instinctive redirection, these traits, and many more like these, are those required of a good teacher to do the job well—and still there is no guarantee that a student will…, will what?  Will learn, achieve, grow, develop…what?  Obtain the one-size-fits-all test result that we’re looking for in our schools and universities?

It is my humble opinion that our increasing emphasis on state-level and national-level unified testing results is killing the art of teaching.  I enjoy teaching.  I love to see the proverbial light bulb go on in a student’s head, that “Ah, Hah!” moment.  It’s exhilarating.  Yet, though I am not anti-government as such, this is one area that I believe the government, at both the state and federal levels, is asserting itself too much.

We hear about how American students are doing poorly in comparison to students around the world.  We’re turning out high school graduates with low-level reading and writing skills.  Fewer and fewer high school graduates seem to be adequately prepared for strong math and science career tracks.  The dropout rate among our minority and inner city kids is widening, so-on and so-forth.  And what’s our answer—get the government involved and throw more standardized tests at them.  Furthermore, blame the educational system, especially teachers.  Such an attitude and approach is not only wrongheaded but also detrimental—in the long run.  That’s my humble opinion.

With the caveat and serious acknowledgment that inner city students, the poor and ethnic minorities, do need special attention from all levels, local, state, and federal, I believe that the application of good educational goals and processes must be reclaimed by our local schools and universities and taken back from the overreach of state and federal government regulatory involvement.

We are too swiftly running towards a one-size-fits-all educational approach for the whole nation.  Our states are putting too much emphasis in the outcome of specific test results.  Teachers are being forced to become educational cookie-cutter test-result facilitators, stifling and deadening more creative, imaginative, and more diverse if not expansive teaching results and possibilities.  This is not good and does not lend itself well to the kind of open-ended possibilities of new discovery and energized learning that America was known for in the early to mid-twentieth century.   This is one area where too much governing from the top down can truly ruin the cause.  Oh yes, let’s quit blaming the teachers.  The majority of teachers should be honored and respected for what they do for our children.

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