Posted by: darcymullin | July 7, 2011

Excuses


I love summer, life slows and I have an opportunity to learn and reflect at my own pace without the distractions of work.  Before I got into administration my students would love/dread the days I mowed my lawn because I would always have some story or reflection about the class the day after.  I have a big lawn and I have lots of time to think and connect the dots while I mow.

Yesterday I was thinking about a conversation I had with a teacher I know.  We were waiting for our kids to finish their activity and were chatting away.  Talk inevitably turned to shop and a former student’s name came up.   I chuckled and asked how he was doing.  I chuckled because I remember the student from Middle School – very intelligent, but easily distracted and work completion was always a concern.  That said, I smiled because I had positive memories about him.

My friends is a highly respected teacher and his response surprised me.  He said, “I don’t know why that kid is still in my class.  He failed last year and he is going to fail again this year.  ADMINISTRATION refuses to do anything about it!  They just keep putting him in my class.”

Really?

I was blown away.  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  I couldn’t imagine having a student fail a class twice and not looking at what I was doing in the classroom.  I couldn’t imagine not looking into the WHY he was failing? WHY he was not doing his work?  Why there was such a disconnect between student and school?

Too often in life, particularly education, we often use the excuse that we don’t have enough time for things.  My friend is a hard working teacher and is committed to his work, but he uses time as an excuse.  He teaches academic, curriculum heavy courses, but it just does not wash.  I’m not saying that people aren’t busy; I understand that time is a finite thing, and there is only so much of it during a single day, but we have time or make time for what we value.  If we value kids over curriculum, then that’s where we need to invest our minutes.

When people say they don’t have time to implement something new, or to reach a difficult student I have to disagree.  What people are really saying is that it is not a priority.  That’s OK, we don’t all need to have the same priorities, but I wonder if the things people are spending time on are things that are really important? I suggest taking some time to reflect and define your purpose for your classroom.  If the purpose is to cover curriculum, then there is a trade off – potentially disengaged students.   I know teachers feel the pressures of the curriculum, but it is our job as administrators to ensure that they understand that kids always come before ILO’s and allow them to put the curriculum aside when necessary.

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Responses

  1. I really don’t even think this is an issue of “time.” Figuring out how to get into a kid’s head is simply part of the job–it is not overtime. So lack of time in this case doesn’t mean inability to work overtime, but inability to carry out the very basics of a teacher’s job description. Getting into a kid’s head is part of the regular planning process. He might be “hard working,” but maybe shifting and “working hard” for the kids instead for “his” plans might alter his results.

  2. Great post, Darcy.

    I know an educator who uses the line: ‘Last I checked, the teacher is the one being paid in the room.’. I know that sounds harsh, but the best educators out there own that fact and step up to the plate to bring in interventions. Interestingly, I noticed an incredible change in another educator I know, and I couldn’t figure it out until I connected the dots. He started caring a lot more about interventions and compassion when his own son, a struggling learner, entered grade 9. Interesting….

  3. I enjoyed your post. I see several teachers I know in your post and I have said the same things. Thanks for posting.

  4. Terrific post! Too many times I have had the same conversation–or worse, had parents say to me that I was the first teacher who said anything good about their son/daughter. Yikes. I just blogged about this the other day–so tired of the blame game–my motto is fix the problem, not the blame. You have a student failing? Are YOU failing the student. Sometimes you just want to shake people. Thanks for articulating the frustration so many of us face . . .

  5. I agree that we often like to put the onus on certain individuals in a building – whether they are classroom teachers, resource teachers, counsellors, administrators etc. for interventions – the schools that have a systemic way of responding when students are struggling that involve all of these key personnel seem to have the most success. Schools that have systems in place to ensure students are identified early in a course when they are struggling and needing extra supports and schools who never allow a student to take the same course, the same way, from the same teacher a second time without being thoughtful about if it is the right thing to do, tend to be more successful. While we can lament the size of our high schools, that in some communities may be a couple thousand students, there are still ways in these large settings to make sure individual students needs are met with unique responses. I don’t think it is enough to say one person or one group has to change and respond – schools have to respond; and particularly in large schools there needs to be a common expectation of what this will look like.

    Thanks for the post to get me thinking.

  6. Thanks for your comments everyone. I think in situations like this Chris and Myron have nailed it. Rather than continuing the blame game and blaming the teacher for not caring, we need wrap around interventions – those that help teachers, help students. Too often we are quick to blame and slow to understand. Situations like these require the system to stand up and listen to the teacher and the student and support them both. The teacher isn’t trying to harm the student(s), but at this point they do not have the tools to intervene. Our job is to supply the tools.


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