Back in the Swing of Things

It's the new year.
... a few days late...

So, let's get this thang crankin'.

I've recently found myself sitting in the classroom, watching my students plug away at what can only be described at mathematical interpretive dance, and staring out the windows. That's right, folks. Windows, as in more than one, as in "I've cycled through my first window, time to move on to the next one." And it hits me.

The next afternoon, we had a staff meeting. My principal talked to us about responsibility because our center is holding hands with the other centers and we're all just swimming around in the bottom of the barrel. He tells us that it's time we take responsibility for our test scores. And all the while I sat there thinking, when was the last time I took a test?

Answer: about five years ago when I certified as a teacher.

The test he was referring to is the TABE exam. It's basically a test for adult students. And, apparently, our center doesn't test our students. It tests our teachers. And, it's the teacher's scores that count in the grand scheme of things.

Except that it doesn't. We are told, as teachers, that we need to bring our students into the modern age, that we need to bring them up to be competitive in the workplace and the world, that we need to build them, mold them, shape them, and when they take their exams to pass on to the next grade (or next phase of life) if they fail, it's not their fault. No. It's the teacher's fault. Because, you know, responsibility and ownership. As my principal continued to show us the depressing percentages hovering above all our heads, I couldn't help but think that it's not the teachers. It's the students.

My first school looked at all the exams (somewhere close to 20 a year), and pointed fingers directly at the teacher if the scores weren't "up to measure." And you know, in some ways, the classroom environment is a product of the teacher. But ultimately, it's the collaboration between the parents, the students, and the teachers that creates the beauty of the classroom. I digress.

Responsibility is something that can be taught. And, I suppose, the main thing to take from this is that we, as teachers and principals and school leaders, need to remember that the teachers should be trusted to do the jobs they were hired for. And perhaps, it would be a breath of fresh air to recognize that a student will perform how he or she will perform. Once that pencil is put in the hands of the student, that student will decide whether or not he or she will be successful.

Which brings me to my point. Teachers need to focus on building responsibility. When we start blaming the teachers for poor performance, we weaken their resolve and start creating instability between the teacher, student, and parent. The teacher becomes a target. And we wonder why teaching isn't a glamorous profession. It's no small wonder, though, to see how the teacher has become the villain so often. We've decided that it couldn't possibly be the fault of the student. We've slowly given over the reigns of responsibility to the teacher to where any sneeze in the wrong direction is a mark off the PDAs (for all my Texas teacher friends).

I'll leave you with this: Think back to your most inspirational teacher and ask yourself, is this teacher the top of my list because of the information he or she tested me in, or is this teacher at the top because of the humanity I witnessed?

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