Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Teacher as Savior Model

Do you need more time in your life? Are you not getting enough "me" moments in your schedule?

Well I have found some items that used to be assumed of parents, but it turns out you no longer need to fret about these things. From now on, don't bother:
  • reading with your children
  • making your children read
  • fussing about bed times
  • providing nutritious meals
  • taking your kids to museums or other educational outings
  • supplanting regular TV with educational programming
  • talking with your children
  • helping them with their homework
You can now safely skip all of the above.  Whew! Doesn't it feel good to get all of those pesky time consumers out of the way?

What's that? You thought these things mattered? Well I am here to say that you have been woefully misinformed.

You need to understand that a good teacher can make up for the absence of all those things. With the flick of his or her instructional wand, a teacher can make the child who has these things - and the child who does not - perform exactly the same. The adage Practice Makes Perfect is SO old fashioned. We now know that INSTRUCTION makes perfect!

Today I met with our district reading people to discuss the coming year. We were brainstorming about what changes we might make next year to improve reading scores (I teach at a Title 1 school and the majority of my 6th graders read at a 3rd grade level).

I mentioned that we might set aside some money each year for teachers to purchase "high interest" books. Our students rarely read outside of the classroom. However, each year I usually have a book that captures their imagination. This year it was "Diary of a Wimpy Kid". I have about a half dozen from the series and demand was far exceeding the supply. Having money available to buy additional copies would allow us to strike while the iron is hot.

This idea had no merit with the district reading representatives - it had nothing to do with my instruction.

"I think it does," I replied. "Our students struggle because they are never actually reading outside of my instruction. I need them wanting to pick up books that are not an assignment."

"If they are given the instruction they need, they will be able to read," came the reply.

I am always perplexed when I encounter this position. I said, "So, in general, a student who practices nightly at a skill, and a student who never practices that skill outside of a teacher's instruction will be at the same proficiency?"

The rep countered, "But they will not receive the same instruction. The teacher provides differentiated instruction to the child who does not practice."

"But you're saying that at the end of the year, the two students will be on the same level?" I said incredulously.

"That is exactly what I am saying!" the rep replied in a frustrated tone.

I shook my head. "I don't believe that for one second."

The rep threw up her hands. "Then why are you even here?!"

This is why, as a general rule, I keep my opinions to myself at my job. I am a shades of gray type of person, and I forget how black and white people will filter my words. It seems that because I insinuated that my instruction doesn't affect everything, I must be a defeatist with no expectations.

My reading rep's perspective is very common; President Obama holds it, as did President Bush before him. The Federal "Race to the Top" and "No Child Left Behind" programs are based on this perspective, which I have called the Teacher as Savior model. Under this model, things like pre-requisite skills, personal aptitude, personal motivation, parent involvement, home environment, practice, etc. are of no consequence. A teacher can render all of these other factors inert.

Is there any other area of life where we would take this view?  That all of those other components have no bearing on proficiency, but only the instruction.

I believe the Teacher as Savior model, which is growing in America, will drain the life out of an already fractured system.

My advice to parents (if they are concerned about their child's educational outcome), is read to your children, have them read nightly, turn off the Nickelodeon and put in some Bill Nye, get them to bed on time and limit their sugar intake, make sure they are doing their homework, and see everything you do together as a learning opportunity.  Do these things, and my instruction time with them will be SO much more beneficial.  Skip these things, and the value of my instruction will be greatly reduced.

I am the voice of one teacher calling out in the educational wilderness - Prepare ye the way for your children and make straight the path of their learning!


The Reverend said...

I agree wholeheartedly. While I'm not a parent, I believe parents have a job to do and a responsibility to teach their children. Education needs to be a constant thing, not just the 8 hours of school.

Warren said...

Couldn't agree more. Here in Kansas City, KS, I work for a nonprofit that partners with a local elementary school to, among other things, help increase literacy. (We work in an under-resourced community, too.)

One of the most important things we do is give away books to the kids - we give each child in the school 3-4 books each month. We've given away over 4,900 books so far this year. All of our books are donated by various church groups, individuals, and Half Price Books.

Research shows the importance of books in the home - it blows my mind that your district reps are that ignorant.

Sammy said...

When I was in high school, I worked for a program in my school district which tutored students at risk of failing in 4th-8th grades. A few of my students were mostly doing well in school, but were having problems in one subject (usually math) and just needed extra help understanding the concepts. Most of my students, however, were failing most, if not all their classes. Without exception, the parents of this latter group of students had little to no involvement in their child's education. No making sure homework was done, no making sure the child was ready for tests, never going to parent-teacher conferences, and never getting their children to school on time.

Some of these parents thought their children should be able to do those things on their own. But most 9-14 year olds are not yet responsible enough to do all that by themselves, with no parental guidance or support. They NEED someone to make them do their homework or make sure they study for a test.

Even worse was the parents who just didn't care. It was like their child's education was completely irrelevant to them.

Two years of that job made me swear I'd never become a public school teacher.

Mae said...

You certainly are in a frustrating position, and I can sympathize. I used to work with families at risk of having the children removed from the home. Many of these children had behavior problems. I found that the great need of "instruction" is for the parents who were mostly in the dark concerning parenting skills. But the biggest barrier was that most of the parents didn't believe parenting their children differently would make any difference. How do you get past that ignorance? I wish I knew...

Don said...

Wow Andrew! I never ran into those kinds of reps in my district. And I taught my entire career in Texas, the nexus of education for the entire nation!!(tongue in cheek). What is that Rep thinking? Oh wait, they're not thinking!

Redlefty said...

Well said!

We're on book five of Narnia (The Horse and His Boy, in my personally preferred order) and when we finish the series we'll move on to something else.

Sugar is for Friday night and sometimes on a weekend. We don't even get cable.

And STILL it's hard. There are no guarantees but there are certainly influencers, and I agree with you that recreational reading is a huge influencer for reading ability for children, and eventually overall intelligence and ability to build a life full measure.

worldinarms said...

Loved this post, Andy. I agree completely that parents have a responsibility to ensure their children are educated, reinforcing everything taught in school and preparing them to go out and contribute to the world. There is absolutely no way one teacher can "differentiate" their teaching for 30 kids in mere minutes of the individual attention you might be able to give them! I liked your idea of bringing more books into the classroom - books they want to read. I remember Ethan fell in love with the Fly Guy series in 1st grade. He thought it was so cool that it was a "chapter" book and he loved the grossness of it all. We bought him every single one. This is too long a story for a blog comment (as far as the reasons why) but Ethan came into 1st grade not being able to say his ABCs in order and could not read at all. He got his hearing aids, fell in love with the Fly Guy books and he just took off from there. Now, 2 years later, he can't put down the Harry Potter books and a host of other above grade level reading! Thank you for posting this - I like your "Teacher as Savior" label of this unfortunate trend. Great reminder to us as parents to DO OUR JOB!

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