A teacher friend of mine sent me a message last week asking how to respond to assertions that her student failures are her fault. She told me that her administration team sent her emails because the number of failures in her classroom jumped between first quarter and second quarter of the first semester, and now they wanted to have a conference with her to review her lessons and her planning process. She was hurt that as a 12 year teacher, her leadership team did not trust her instruction enough to know that she was doing everything possible to help her students succeed.
Sadly, I think this is a situation across the educational landscape. There is a system of blame in education that, while not new, feels heavily pervasive. Teachers feel offended because students are failing at massive rates, but many times they look at students who could care less about the academics so long as they get to socialize in class and keep their airpods while instruction is going on. Campus administrators are being pressed by District leadership as to why the countless assessments given per quarter are not yielding the necessary growth rates to ensure good performance on State tests at the end of the school year. District leadership feels the pressure coming from local governments and beyond. Media is reporting on it. Parent FB groups rip districts up one side and down the other. It becomes a toxic trickle down effect of blame that leaves everyone feeling horrible, while accomplishing nothing.
As a teacher, I know the crushing weight of individual students, or even classes of students, who are intent on failing. My gradebook tells the tale of this. The wrinkles in my forehead underscore the fact that stress levels around grades and achievement are a real thing! My students will tell you that almost every week is filled with some kind of lecture or motivational speech. They will also tell you that in most cases, they just don’t care. As a future administrator, I get it. We have to show results. That is the name of the game. Education is a conveyor belt in a huge manufacturing system whereby we expect our teachers to teach well, and our students to achieve well. When that does not happen, we have to get to the root cause.
But blame is not the answer. Belief is.
Everybody is being asked to do a lot now. I see it up close. Building belief in people is the only solution that I can see. Where blame adds weight, belief shares it. Teachers need to be shown the belief and confidence in their skills, while finding ways to shore up instruction and break down curriculums so that they can be more inclusive of actual student interests rather than the ones that we perceive because we were once children ourselves. Seriously, if curriculums are not going out and grabbing children where they are, we will never help them reach where they could be. This HAS to include scouring the landscapes of where they virtually make their bones, so that we can actually reach them with things that actually reach them. When teachers are believed in, even the most off-the wall ideas build efficacy and results can be obtained.
Teachers who are believed in can work to believe in students, whether those students are turning in work or not. Ultimately, yes, we want them to pass, get good grades, make us look good on state assessments, etc. But what do we actually, at our heart level, want for them? Health of all kinds? Yes. Knowledge that we are on their side? Yes. That we won’t give up on them? YES! I have students who have not passed a single quarter who know that I would STILL run through a brick wall for them, because I believe in them. They know I get that they might not mentally be in school now, but the day will come when they are, and when they are ready, I’m ready for them because I believe in them. That, in my humble (sometimes naive) opinion, is better than the most iron-clad instructional technique.
When we turn the cycle of blame into a cycle of belief, I believe that we will begin to see real movement in education…even despite laws and regulations that are put in place that can be harmful for everyone involved. When blame is replaced with belief, is means that we are truly together…which is what everyone in education most needs right now,
…and what my teacher friend really needed to hear most.