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.
I’m with you on all of this, Susan, except for one thing… and this might not apply in America but it certainly applies in the UK: teachers aren’t being taught to teach properly and many of them aren’t, themselves, really qualified to be teachers. A lot can’t spell, can’t structure sentences, and can’t even see the mistakes their students are making. So it’s not enough to have a calling – there should be some actual education there too.
To my mind having a calling and also being able to inspire should go hand in hand, unfortunately they don’t always.
I know in the district I taught in, we had high standards for teachers that were enforced pretty tightly, but I’m sure that isn’t the case in all cities in the U.S. I agree, Val, that you have to have a well educated teacher to begin with, but I’m tired of hearing them complain and complain about everything. Th en don’t go into education until everything is completely fixed, we have tons of money to put into it, well-behaved children in all the classrooms, etc. thanks for your comment.
I completely agree. It’s easy to finger-point and zero in on one thing to blame, but really when it comes down to it, it’s everyone’s collective responsibility to engage each student and help them learn and succeed that is the ultimate goal. If we only lived in a perfect world…obviously, we don’t and so we need to adjust accordingly. Your line, “it isn’t a job, but a calling” really struck a chord with me. I worked in special ed and can’t tell you how many times kids were passed over, shuffled around or fell through the cracks because they didn’t have that one special teacher (like you) who was willing to do whatever it takes to help them. I can’t imagine NOT having that goal in mind when you’re a teacher!
Thanks for your comment, Darla. I started out in special ed many, many years ago, teaching seriously emotionally disturbed adolescents in a self-contained classroom before mainstreaming was the way to go. I’ve always had a hard for those kids who struggle.
I agree with you, blaming accomplishes nothing.
I wish there were more teachers like you.
Thanks for a great post of honesty and truth on education. 🙂
Thanks, E.C. There are many teachers who feel the way I do, thankfully.
Good for you, Susan! You sound like the teacher that every student needs somewhere during their education process. I applaud your efforts and thankful for your input on this sensitive topic.
Thanks, Patti. I missed being a classroom teacher when I became an administrator. I missed kids like Richard.
Blame is easy… working together to change situations and lives is the hard part. Who is up for the challenger? Our kids are worth the effort!!
Teaching is a calling and not a job. It’s the hardest job you’ll ever love. One who does it and does it well carries it with him/her all the hours of the day thinking of another way to reach one, a group or a whole class. I learned along the way, if you offer it they will come. Sooo, I had to do a whole lot of offering…all my energy could muster. Bravo to you for not falling for the label given Richard and bulldozing on through all the bravado, mis-perceptions, misconceptions, myths and “can’t’s”. You are a skillful teacher. Kids come the way they are. Parents send us the best they’ve got…and we have to receive them with open loving arms that deflect sarcasm, negativity, and put downs however blatant or subtle. It’s not about blame but connecting. Great post!
Thanks so much, Georgette. I know you get it because, after reading so many of your posts and comments, I know what an outstanding teacher you are. Yes, teaching is exhausting, if you do it right. What isn’t, if it’s something worthwhile? Put the payout in lives you touch is priceless.
Very true. Too much of life is spent pointing fingers when we should be looking at our own life and examining our own effort.
Good comment, Antigone. Thanks.
Great post, Susan! My best friend is a teacher. I have learned a lot about teacher’s life from her. She also said that teachers are asked to spend more time and energy on writing daily reports, meeting outcomes, attending workshops, etc. than teaching kids. BTW, I read a post about teachers just a couple of weeks ago: http://atomsofthought.wordpress.com/.
Thanks, Amy. I’ll check out that website.
I agree – all teaching begins at home and parents must shoulder the responsibility of this. Alas, many don’t as they have had no role model to follow in this.
Yes, that’s so true, Judith. Yet, when that doesn’t happen, an effective teacher can still do so much for that child.
I enjoyed hearing your perspective on this. That teen was so lucky you took a chance on him.
Thanks, Winsomebella. His name was Richard, and I can still picture the big hulk of a kid he was. I was privileged to have had him in my class.
What a great post. Blaming does no good. Instead, we need to work together to make our schools the best they can be. A good public education can save a child who has no other resources. And if every child had access to a quality education, our entire society would reap the benefits. I wish our leaders could see that and would give our schools the money they need.
Me, too, Shary. Money, of course, isn’t the easy fix, but I think it would do a great deal to making a bad situation better. It would mean smaller classes and attracting top graduates from the universitites.
Hats off to you Susan for caring enough to make a difference. I think our teachers today are overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated. I also think the breakdown in the family structure that our society has been experiencing for some time, also makes the learning situation worse. When I was in school a hundred years ago, most students came from two-parent families, most with stay-at-home moms. My parents were not educated themselves, but they made it clear that they expected us to behave in school, do our homework every night, work hard and appreciate the education we were getting. And for the most part, we did.
BTW – I still read a physical newspaper too. Our local paper is going the way of many others though – starting next year, only three days a week and online editions the other days. I will miss it.
Yes, HG, life seemed a lot simpler when we were growing up, and no doubt teachers had an easier job. I would have enjoyed teaching back then. But what people today don’t remember about those schools we grew up in were that special needs children rarely had their needs met and troubled kids were kicked out of school, many being sent to parochial school where the nuns could sometimes make them behave. Most just dropped out, though, so even back then, there were a lot of problems.
WOW. Susan, you don’t know how timely and how much I needed to read something like this as I’ve been asking myself if I made the right decision to teach.:) You hit the issue I’m struggling with right on the head. These lines especially struck me: “Teaching is a calling, not a job…But that is not the reality, and teachers have to take the kids the way they come. That is our calling.” This is a God-send message today! Thank you very much.
Thanks for your comment, Yen. You are a teacher who gets the reality and recognizes teaching as a calling. I’m glad this message was important to you today.
It’s easy to blame an entire group of people but life is rarely that simple. Personally from a lot of what I see, parents have a huge responsibility and sometimes the blame does lie with them. But I’ve also been on the receiving end of poor teaching. The difference is now the child has learnt to blame everyone else for their problems, they don’t always think or even know that they can change their situations, aspire, hope. Sad. 🙂
Yes, it is sad, Idio-Eye, and blaming doesn’t accomplish anything.