Tuesday, May 30, 2006

PESPD'S MYTH #1: If a Student Fails, The Teacher Has Failed

I'm pretty sure the first time I heard this one was in one of my education classes back in my undergrad days, but that's so long ago and my education classes were so unmemorable that I can't swear to it. It is something every teacher has heard, though, and many teachers think they're supposed to believe it. I understand that when a workshop presenter or education professor says something like this, they are trying to make a point that any good teacher would agree with--we should do whatever we can to reach every student that we can. The problem with this cliche' is that some teachers think they must buy into it completely and that they are uncaring if they don't. And buying into this cliche' completely would be a good way to be driven out of the profession or to a nervous breakdown. No matter how good you are at something, it's hard to stick with it if you constantly feel like you're failing.

Now some people outside of the teaching profession have come to believe this myth, too--even some students. A few years ago I attended a workshop in which the presenter, a teacher-turned-college-professor told a story about a seventh grade girl with whom he had worked. The girl had refused to do a required assignment. The presenter said he tried everything he could think of to encourage her, but she wouldn't do it. Finally, he asked her why she wouldn't just give it a try. She replied, "Because if I try, it won't be very good, and I'll be a failure; but if I don't try, then you're the failure."

I'm not sure which is worse: the fact that this myth has become so widespread that some kids believe it, or the fact that so many teachers at that workshop nodded their head in agreement with the young girl. Here was a case where the teacher did everything a good teacher should do. He gave that student every opportunity to try to be successful. If this sounds harsh, I'm sorry, but that young girl had it backwards--the teacher was not the failure; she was.

This story points out how harmful it can be when teachers and schools take upon themselves responsibilities that are actually the students. It IS our responsibility to give kids opportunities. It is also our responsibility to do whatever we can to motivate and encourage them, and I have read some blogs by teachers who seem incredibly gifted at this. It is my personal belief that it's my responsibility to make it possible for every student I have to be successful. However, it IS DEFINITELY NOT our responsibility to MAKE THEM learn. At some point, students have to make the decision to do that themselves. One of the biggest problems in education today is the accepted idea that the primary responsibility for learning lies with somebody other than the student.

If you give me a difficult job to do, but a job that I am capable of doing; and you make it clear to me that it is my responsibility, I'm going to get that job done. On the other hand, if you give me subtle messages that it's really somebody else's fault if I fail, there's a much greater chance that I'll fail. Yet that is the message that many kids are getting today, and it's one reason why so many public school kids are non-performers. We need to make it crystal clear that when a student fails because he didn't try, there is only one person at whom fingers are going to be pointed, and that person is not going to be the teacher. We need to make it clear that students, more than anyone else, are responsible for their own learning.


Blogger Butterfly Angel said...

I wholeheartedly agree with you. If you visit my blog/profile you will know that I am an educator. My colleagues and I want to know when are students going to be held responsible for their learning? When did parents abdicate their responsibility and shove parenting off on teachers? Let's not even visit the "district office" thing! They are SOOOOOOOOOOO far removed from the classroom that it isn't even funny. NCLB is another laugh riot..... but I digress. Love reading your stuff.
~butterfly angel~

5/31/2006 2:12 PM  
Blogger EHT said...

I explain to my students every year my title is teacher not learner. I teach and they learn. I cannot learn for them. I can provide opportunities for them to learn and I can provide different methods for the learning but they have to do something. There are a growing number of students today who do not respond to any of my invitations to learn. They prefer to disrupt, threaten, and commit violence. Their actions negate their right to be in the learning environment because they threaten the success of others.

5/31/2006 7:35 PM  
Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

I've finally added you to my blogroll. I've been meaning to. I also ordered your book--I felt privileged to have a published author post on my blog! Maybe someday the many book ideas I have will come into being.

6/01/2006 3:18 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Thank you BA, you truly are an angel, and Mr. McNamar, I'm the one who now feels privileged. And finally, EHS, after being berated by Ms. H., it is wonderful to get your very practical perspective again!

6/01/2006 7:08 PM  
Blogger Deb Sistrunk Nelson said...

I can understand and agree with much that everyone is saying. Let me just say that that even though most teachers are dedicated to their profession and their students, there are teachers in the classroom who disengage their students on the first day. So do parents. I know because I've seen it first-hand.

Kids say things that are inappropriate and not well thought out. As adults, we must be careful not to take everything personally. Many kids go through stuff today that we adults never had to experience at their age.

If a student told me that I failed, I'd ask him why he thinks that. Sometimes there is something else going on with the student that really has nothing to do with you.

Finally, to Elementaryhistoryteacher - I get your point. However, let me say this: I hope teachers as a group understand that lifelong learning is important and that we can all learn something from our children. Kids have a way of getting to the heart of a matter very quickly and offering fresh perspectives on issues. They can also sense quickly when adults don't respect them.

Even as the parent, I have always allowed my children to speak their mind about anything, as long as they do it with respect.

If there is an outburst of angst, where I'm accused of something, I'll ask my child questions to see what's going on with her. Often, it's something that has nothing to do with me. Sometimes I have goofed. In those cases, I apologize. Apologizing doesn't make me a weak parent.

As someone who has worked one-on-one with students failing in communication arts, I have found that many of these children act out but are actually great readers. With these kids, I look for creative ways to engage the student first - which often involves listening. I don't judge them. Once we have established rapport, it's easier to get positive outcomes from these students.

As an educator and a parent, I make a point of trying to look at situations as if I were a kid. In addition, if my child and I disagree about something, I explain my position from the vantage point of an adult. Often, my child will tell me that she never "thought about it that way."

Again, I think we adults must remember this: "It's not always about you."

6/02/2006 5:58 AM  
Blogger Deb Sistrunk Nelson said...

I can't wait to see your views on the other myths. :-)

6/02/2006 5:59 AM  
Blogger DesertSurfer said...

AMEN! I am not sure why I usually get these stares of horror when I same something to the effect that some students are just horrible people and there is no doubt that they will grow up to be horrible adults.

I was in a SpEd meeting a few weeks ago to talk about an incident where a couple of mean boys convinced their "friend" who is ED that this other boy kept calling him fat and stupid and that he should go kick his ass - which he did. Now afterwards he came up to me and told me everything that happened and honestly felt bad.

Well the school pyschologist said that we should pull those boys into a meeting and let them know how wrong it was for them to take advantage of this SpEd kid. I literally laughed out loud and said that was absurd because these boys were actually proud of what they were able to do because they were just bad kids. She was HORRIFIED that I would think these kids would not want to know why what they did was wrong...I have to admit, I laughed again at her reaction.

And to bring this back to topic (which I am sure you are wondering about) both of these boys are failing students to which is no shock to me and definitely no reflection on my teaching skills.

I teach to those students who want to learn or at least to those who know they have to do it anyway.


6/03/2006 3:43 PM  
Blogger the anonymous teacher said...

I'm really bothered by your last comment, Strausser. Possibly you didn't mean it exactly as I'm interpreting it, and if so, then I apologize.
I understand my job to be not only educating those who want to learn, but also attempting to instill that same passion into those who don't. It can be difficult, but I've seen it happen.
I do agree that some students are just bad, just like some adults are bad, but I think we still have to try to reach them. As I said, I know we can't save them all, but I don't think we're doing our job if we don't even try.

6/04/2006 11:01 AM  
Blogger DesertSurfer said...

Anonymous Teacher, Oh I do try and never give up trying to reach those kids that simply do not care. But at the end of the day I do not feel like I have failed if I do not reach everybody. Feel frustrated, yes...annoyed, yes....but a failure, no.

I believe that every teacher should go in feeling like they are going to inspire every child to love to learn but they just cannot beat themselves up for those that are not willing to even try.

When I have students who fail my class the very first thing I look at is myself an see if there was anything I coul have done differently and then after that I have to put the responsibility on the student.

Not every doctor can save every patient.


6/04/2006 12:42 PM  
Blogger Arsonor said...

Jumping into your blog a little late, but better late than never. So far some good and amusing insights. I'll keep reading and perhaps try to make some thoughtful commentary later on.

11/22/2006 8:27 AM  
Anonymous John Robret said...

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2/10/2015 6:32 AM  

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