Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Just how much can teachers and schools do?

It's an honest question, and one that I am surprised hasn't come up in class yet. For a very long time now, the view has been that schools need to do it all. On the one hand, some people are quick to jump and blame the parents (they don't care, they are lazy, etc.) without really exploring why parents may not be involved. True, there are always parents who may not care (and it's not just an urban thing--they exist in all communities). For me there is a deeper issue that needs to be explored: the responsibility society has placed on schools.

There's an interest blogpost in the New York Times that a Chicago teacher posted. It's a wonderful post on so many levels, but it raised the issue of how much schools and teachers can do. You can read the post here. There are also some really great comments attached to the post.

In the 1800's and early 1900's, especially after school became compulsory (e.g., required by law), schools were expected to play the role of "parent" while students were in school. It was called "en loco parentis." On a deeper level, though, schools were expected in some communities to replace parents. The goal here was to make students "American" and to remove as much of the "immigrant" from them as possible. The ironic thing about all of this is that society wanted schools to assume the role of parent, and yet, it still blames parents for not being involved enough.

In fact, we see this today with parents. Schools and teachers tell parents they want them involved in their children's education. But the truth is, they don't want them too involved. I hear stories all the time from both sides. Parents are pushy, and try to tell teachers how to do their jobs (from teachers); teachers and schools are unresponsive or patronizing (from parents). On many levels, this complex relationship has nothing to do with teachers, parents, and students. The system itself relies on these three groups not coming together. The truth is, teachers and parents have a lot of the same concerns. If they were to actually work together, they would be a very powerful block that could get things done. In this sense, they are a threat to the way things are and the way things are done. Just imagine if they all got together to voice their concerns, together, regarding the way in which No Child Left Behind has narrowed the curriculum.

So back to my original question: Just how much can teachers and schools do? They can't do what society expects them to do. They cannot eliminate poverty (though some would like to believe they can). They cannot make society equitable (they are part of society). They cannot fight abuse, unemployment, jobs being shifted overseas, no health care. And yet, too often all of this becomes their burden, on top of teaching. The end result is that teachers are spread too thin. This means the difference between doing one or two things really well and doing a lot of things mediocre.

Ultimately though, teachers get the blame (and parents, too) and students suffer.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

We as teachers are responsible as we want to be. I’ve seen teachers who come in, say what they need to and send students on their way. While others pay attention to every single student, know their lives, and their concerns. It is difficult to say what should be the responsibility of teachers. Yes they should teach students how to become an American in the sense of a citizen, but they do not have to teach them how their morals are set up, or what they should do in every situation, parents are there for that.

I think it’s a cloudy subject, and there should not be so much responsibility put on teachers.

wallacek1 said...

Teachers are expected to do alot outside of their normal responsibilities. Some choose to do these, some choose to ignore. Some teachers find it difficult to know when to back off. There are problems in students lives that sometimes we want to help, but know it is our best interest to leave it to a parent. We don't know how some parents will react when you go beyond the walls of education. Then you have parents that expect to take the job as a parent because they are to consumned in their own lives. As a teacher I believe that our classrooms can have an impact our our society, but not as much a parents can have. I, the teacher, will not have as much of an imprint on my students as there parents will, but that doesn't stop me from trying to foster an environment for a better society.

Anonymous said...

Accountability,who has the most placed on them, teachers,schools,or parents? RL

Monk said...

Teachers have a lot on their plate. They have lesson plans to make, and some teachers take on additional responsibilities such as refereeing and coaching (soccer, track and field, etc.). Teachers also have their personal lives outside of school.

There are some teachers who stay after on a regular basis to help students that understand the material that was presented in class. There is, however, so much a teacher (and schools) can do. I think that some parents forget that teachers are human with emotions or at least act that way.

My question is, would parent - teacher meetings help the situation?

Michy said...

I loved that my teacher's shaped who I am today. My role models at home were not really role models at all. I was never pushed by my parents to do homework. In some cases the student needs the teacher to act as surrogate parents. Also when most of a child's life is being spent at school, it is only natural the teachers to take some responsibility for the students growth and development. It's a package deal, being a teacher.

MAPTeacher said...

I agree with the conundrum that public education is in, which you paint in this statement. Yet, as the eternal optimist...I think we can, as teachers, reach out and connect with the students. May be not all of them all of the time, but it is a goal with reaching for. We can't fight all of society's ills from inside of a classroom. We also never know exactly what is going to stick with any one particular child. This is probably why we are all working so hard and are exhausted by the time the end of June rolls around. We only have so much time to make a difference...

PuppyPetPeeve said...

This discussion brings me back to the idea of seeing students as individuals. Some of them will do great without anything extra from anyone, some need a little extra from home to support what's going on in school, some need a little extra from school to support or perhaps counter act whats going on at home. Teachers and schools can do what we all expect or hope for from any profession that services us - they can put in 100% and then add a little extra.

happy2BAmom said...

Your post reminds me of being in undergrad reading about the "model classroom". In my teaching of .... textbooks, the lessons were designed to meet the needs of students they described. You know... those students who had their homework done, their permission slips signed, a filling breakfast with fruit and OJ each morning and new experiences to share about their weekend. A picture was painted of teaching a perfect lesson and focusing only on "teaching". Well then... you get a job in the real world and understand that teaching is much more than "teaching". It is what undergraduate courses didn't prepare you for.
Teachers today need to set realistic goals for themselves and their students and be that special person who tries to make a difference in the learning of a child. Teachers can't do it all, but they can teach each child that he or she is special and worthy of success.

sandyfootprints said...

I find myself often thinking of myself as a future teacher and having goals to really change students' lives and make a difference in the lives of teenagers and students in my class. I have aspirations to encourage each and every one of my students to continue their educations and go to college and make any dreams they have come true. Then reality part of my thinking sets it. I think a lot of teachers go into the education profession believing they can really make a difference in the lives of others. Before I sound too cynical, I believe that teachers can greatly impact one of their student's lives, however to believe that they can greatly affect a new generation can lead to a big dissapointment. There is only so much that a teacher can do, especially because students only spend a few hours from their day with each teacher for nine months out of the year. Other than that students have lives of their own which greatly impact their individual ways of life. Before I sound too cynical, I think it's important to recognize that if you can touch one person's life, then you have done your job as a teacher.

ihatetheinterstate said...

I'm certainly one guilty of blaming the parents, but the truth is I think a much greater amount of parental responsibility is needed in our culture. I see, even in my own niece and nephews, so many young children who are just entering school or not even in the system yet under educated (in terms of socialization and basic behavior) or mis-educated. I also think that a large part of the problem is television, not that I advocate censorship, I loathe the idea. I do feel though that parents, particularly when they're negligently letting the television raise their children, need to at least demand a higher grade of quality from the networks. Of course, the ideal would be for parents to make the effort to raise their children themselves, and provide them with more constructive diversions, but I fear I digress from mildly relevant opinions to utter fantasy, for the most part, with that thought.

Anonymous said...

I am lucky to say that I had parents who cared very much about me and my education. Still even though they cared so much I was still a terrible student in middle school. My parents gave me help at home. I hate to say it, even though I was trying and not doing well in school, my middle school teachers seemed not to care. I was lucky to have parents that cared so much. I realize that parents that aren't involved aren't everywhere. I think teachers should take on the job of acting as a parent if the parents are not available to help.

root1324 said...

Teachers are expected to do many things for the students, but most do not. Most teachers just go along everyday reading from their notes and not actually interacting with the students. This brings up and importance of forming a teacher and student relationship because if a teacher can connect with a student as an indiviual it can engage the student to thrive better in school.

But as for the parents, yes some parents do not play the major role that they should be playing in their children's lives. Yet it could be because most parents are working 5 days a week none stop which these days it is the American thing to do to be a workaholic. But you brought up a great point that if both teachers and parents are able to work together that they will be able to form the relationships needed for students and children to succedd in life.

alex said...

Definitly I agree with your opinion about teacher parent team work. As a parent and future teacher I think we should bouth be concern about our children future. Parent and teacher should do their job as good as they can. Supporting each other work can only give them opportunity to know their existing problems and their social needs. They should work and exchange their thought and experience, which can help them to choose the best resolt in difficult sytuation. Usually, group of people come with better ideas then a one person.

Capo said...

I have to say that my parents were always involved with me and school. Not so much pushing the teachers and telling them how to do their job, but pushing me to do the best I can. They were always interested in my school work and how I progressing in class. If I was struggling they would go over it with me until I understood it. Unfortunately some students are not as lucky to have parents that cared that much. On the other hand, teachers have their own responsibilities to deal with, and on top of that, having to deal with students issues, if they chose to get involved. Some teachers just ignore the fact that some students need help and they're not getting it at home and other teachers get too involved in their students personal life. Either way I think you made a good point by saying that teachers and parents should work together to come up with solutions to help the student succeed. Teachers can't do it alone and parents can't do it alone but if they work together it could definitely work.

History Buff said...

I think as teachers, we need to influence the students by setting good examples, and just be there for them. We need to do our best at teaching them course material in respect to school. Else where, we need to just be there and keep our eyes open especially when it comes to things at home beyond our control. We need to do what we can, but before that, we need to be aware of what we are capable of doing.

Renn said...

I feel society looks down upon parents if they do not get involved in school. This is because teachers and school feel parent play a huge part in their children life. If a parent is lazy and does not care, th e student most likely feels that way too. Parents have to realize their children are an important part of their life and they should want to be involved. You can be involved by just asking how was your school day or If they need help with homework. Being involved does not alway mean going to the school or school events, it just means being part of their children life.

aref said...

Well I look at it as how much will I do to help as a parent or as teacher. Because as a society we look to see what the other person is going to do. As a teacher I will not shy from developing my students to be better citizens and maybe the parents too, because before I influence the student, I will influence the parent on my agendas onto as far as developing their student to be a better citizen. If they get feel for me than I it will make the relationship easier for both.

lillaniegirl said...

I don't think there should be blame. Once a problem/issue is recognized everyone involved should work together to rectify the problem. If trouble can be seen ahead, then together those who can take a different route should. What does blame do aside from upset people? Who cares who's fault something is, what matters is the end result.

FutureTeacher said...

I definitely agree that schools are expected to do it all. I do not think it should be that way, because we don't have the time to act as parents with each and every student. Students suffer either way, whether teachers aren't doing their job or their parent's aren't. I am all for spending extra time outside the classroom with those who are obviously neglected at home. I feel that as teachers we realize who needs extra attention and who doesn't. However, I do not feel it is our RESPONSIBILITY to act as a parent, and we should definitely not have the blame put on us for a student's failure. As a teacher, I would require signatures from home periodically just to ensure that parents are observing their kids' homework, but we can only do so much. We should not have to take on the responsibility of parents, or be blamed for the inadequacies of students. It's our job, yes, but we can only do so much. We may be parents as well, and have kids of our own to support and help with their education.