This morning I was having difficulty trying to come up with a topic for my blog post. As I was reading the op-ed section of the newspaper this morning (yes, a physical paper copy, not an online edition. Some of us old people still read a newsPAPER!), there were six comments from readers responding to an earlier letter about who to blame for students’ poor performance in school. Apparently, on a previous day, many readers blamed teachers. Today, nearly everone blamed parents for not being good parents. As I followed this discussion and got more absorbed into it, I realized I had the topic for my post this morning because this is a topic near and dear to my heart.
I am so very tired of this blame game. Yes, there are some rotten teachers in some classrooms. There are also parents out there who are terrible role models. Many parents don’t help their children with homework because the parents can’t, either because they were poorly educated themselves, or because they are working two jobs and aren’t home to help. Yes, we could maybe get better teachers if we paid them more. Yes, smaller classrooms would help tremendously, and that would mean we would need to put more money into education instead of reducing our spending, which seems to be the case now. Yes, if students were more disciplined and less disruptive in class, so much more could be accomplished. I could go on and on about who is to blame, but there are so many factors that work together to create a big mess, and no amount of blaming this side or that side is going to “fix” the problem.
But what I do know for certain is this: Teaching is a calling, not a job. What I hear from reading the letters in the op-ed page and have heard over and over again from listening to people complain about the education system is that we need parents to raise their children to be responsible and respectful, to do their homework and pay attention in class. Wouldn’t that be loverly! But that is not the reality, and teachers have to take the kids the way they come. That is our calling.
It would be easy to teach perfect kids, kids who come from homes where parents check their homework every night, kids who always turn in their work and study for tests, kids who come to school every day ready to learn and let their classmates learn, too. Instead, we get children who never have breakfast because there isn’t anything to eat at home, children whose parents don’t even get up in the morning to see them off to school because they are hungover or worked the night shift. We have children who miss school because a younger brother or sister is sick at home and a parent can’t miss work to stay home, so it falls to the older sibling. We get kids who live in cars or under bridges. I could go on and on about why we don’t have the “perfect” child in class. And I say this again: Teaching is a calling. If you can’t take the reality, don’t go into teaching, because I also know this:
A teacher who views teaching as a calling can make a difference in the lives of even the toughest children. I have seen a teenager who no other teacher wanted, who was so disruptive in class that he was kicked out of class after class and finally sent to alternative school for several months, return to school and be put in a teacher’s class who saw past all the toughness and anger and awful behavior and made a connection with that youngster. I have seen how that young man blossomed when he finally found someone who believed in him and cheered every little accomplishment, even if it was just that he showed up. I have seen how that young man turned from a belligerant teenager into someone who was a delight to have in class, who wanted to be there, who wanted to learn.
So who cares who is to blame for poor student performance? There is plenty of blame to go around, and blaming just isn’t productive. As teachers, we must take who we get and do everything in our power to show them that education can change their lives. Children are that important. That is the reality of the classroom.
Oh, and by the way, that young man I spoke of? I was the teacher who took him in. I get the reality of the classroom.