Think Carefully Before You Point That Finger

This whole “let’s blame everything on bad teachers” business has really got me steamed.  I’m not sure why tearing teachers apart is suddenly a trendy thing to do – personally I think it’s one of those trends that is about as stylish and hot as those shirts that changed color with your body heat.  Remember those?  I think they were called Hypercolor Ts or something ridiculous like that?  At the time, some may have thought they were cool, but now…NOW I am hoping those same people are looking back at pictures of their past, shaking their heads and thinking about how LAME that particular trend really was.  How it lead them down a road of fashion don’ts.  How it was a waste of time and money.

Here’s to hoping that all of this finger pointing goes the way of Hypercolor shirts.  Years from now, with any luck, the people behind those self-righteous digits will be thinking back on their past, shaking their heads and thinking about how LAME this particular trend really was.  How it lead our schools down a road of overly standardized don’ts.  How it was a waste of time and money.

Friends, my point is (Yes, I have one.) that sometimes doing what is trendy is nothing but a waste of time.  I liken our schools to the closets of individuals who have fallen victim to too many passing trends.  Disorganized, costly and with no true focus. 

But hey, let’s totally blame the teachers for all that mess.  You know, since they have so much say over what they do in their classrooms…

What a minute.

May I share a little story with you?  A story about what I see when I am in classrooms?  A story about what is actually going on in our schools despite all of the finger pointing, all of the negativity, all of the buzzwords that never seem to really go anywhere? 

I recently spent time with an early childhood teacher.  She is a veteran teacher who has been working with the small fries for many years.  Her classroom is adorable.  I sat down to read to the group and immediately noticed how wonderfully they were all sitting on the carpet.  Except for one friend.  This one friend would call out comments about the book despite all of her classmates modeling quiet listening behavior.  She threw her body around the rug, taking out several similarly small fries in the process.  I watched as these other students simply dusted themselves off, smiled and continued to listen.  As I continued to read (Mrs. Mimi is determined.  Must. Read.  Out.  Loud.), this friend ran over to her teacher’s desk, grabbing a handful of stickers.  When the stickers were taken away, she grabbed at a nearby chart.  When the chart was taken away, she went for a marker.  I think you get my point.

Girlfriend was beyond disruptive.  But instead of appearing to be malicious in her movements, this little girl truly seemed to have no control. 

After my read aloud (which still managed to ROCK, thank you very much), I sat with the teacher.  She was honest with me regarding her struggles with this particular student.  She told me how frustrated she felt at times.  She told me how difficult it was to help this girl to understand how to keep her hands to herself. 

And then she told me how bright this little girl is.  How much she craves individual attention.  How far she’s come in just a few short weeks.  How she is committed to helping this girl, survivor of the earthquake in Haiti, learn as much as possible. 

During our conversation I heard no blame.  I heard no excuses.  I heard nothing but the honesty of a gifted teacher as she acknowledged the struggle and considered solutions. 

So, Powers That Be?  Perhaps you should pause, look inside an actual classroom and see what you can see.  And then maybe you can put those blame-ridden, trend-loving fingers away and get down to work like the rest of us. 

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  • I totally remember loving the idea of the Hypercolor shirt and buying one in middle school. Unbeknownst to me at the time, when it heated up in the ARMPIT region, everyone could tell when I was sweating. Embarrassing.

    I hope the teacher blamers feel embarrassed as well. I work with so many teachers who give everything to their kids and never blame parents or the kid, but ask themselves, "what else can I do to help?". I get enraged at how our teachers are treated.

    October 24, 2010 at 10:20 pm
  • Most teachers are wonderful and have too many things on their plates. I hear a story about two of my former students. One became and English/Spanilsh teacher and one an occupational therapist. Both hold the same degree level. The English/Spanish teacher is making 29,000 and the occupational therapist is making 60,000. The OT will work their hours and go home to do other things. The English/Spanish teacher will go home to grade papers, do lesson plans and/or do fundraisers or a host of other things. So I agree that don't point the finger to you have all the facts!

    October 24, 2010 at 10:20 pm
  • I haven't read your blog for a while but I'm glad I came back. =) Preach on sister!

    October 24, 2010 at 10:20 pm
  • Great post! Our students bring so many issues (both good and bad) to the classroom every day. There is no formula (or test) that can fit each student. I just saw "Waiting for Superman", which looks at the schools and talks about quality teachers. Oddly, they never said what makes a teacher quality or good.

    It is too easy to point at teachers and blame us for al the ills. Everyone thinks they know what's best for schools since we've all been there. Well, come on back into the classroom, walk a day or more in our shoes, and then sit with us and talk about what would help our students. I think they'll find it's smaller class sizes, more resources, time for teachers to collaborate and attend workshops, and more.

    October 24, 2010 at 10:20 pm
  • Great post! I totally agree with you- sure there ARE bad teachers out there but they are really not the problem with education and I bet there are way more good teachers than bad ones!

    I have to work on my own blaming because I sometimes blame parents more than necessary.I know many parents are trying their best but I get frustrated when people blame teachers and I'm like- I'm sorry, who had them for 5 years before me? Who has them every summer/weekend/night? Not me! But you are right, no blaming!

    October 24, 2010 at 10:20 pm
  • I wish that I always had the patience to see only the symptoms and possible solutions. I'll try to keep this story in my mind to apply to my hormone infused almost teen students.

    I was watching that new school make-over show the other night (not recommended) and someone flippantly said "The entire education system is broken, but we hope that a make-over can help." Then they gave the teachers a lounge with a full living room and kitchen. Since it seems like they never actually go home this seemed pretty generous. I was annoyed to say the least.

    October 24, 2010 at 10:20 pm
  • I think I've always had it easy as an early childhood person. Unlike the rest of you my job is to focus on each child and what his or her needs are. It makes having the attitude of the teacher you visited much easier because you do not usually have tests breathing down your neck and demanding administrators wanting to know if the kiddos have learned everything yet. I know some early childhood places are like that, but it's really hard not to see each kid for what he or she is and to spend lots of time figuring out how to help them grow into his/her best possible person.

    October 25, 2010 at 10:22 am
  • Thanks for talking to us last night in Mr. Chamberlain's class. Technology is good in that we get to hear from people we might never have otherwise and I am so glad we heard from you. You are a wonderful advocate for teachers and little friends and we are glad you are working for us all! Maybe change will come!

    October 27, 2010 at 2:05 pm
  • Amen!! I wish more people would take the time to come into our classrooms and actually SEE with their own eyes what goes on inside…Thanks for courageously standing up for all of us!

    October 27, 2010 at 2:05 pm
  • Great post! It has gotten out of hand and is distracting us from more serious issues. Thanks for your perspective.
    Kevin Hart

    P.S. I remember those T-shirts well…

    October 27, 2010 at 2:05 pm
  • Have you seen the trailer for "Waiting for Superman" yet?

    October 30, 2010 at 1:55 pm
  • I must confess: I am not a teacher.

    I am a parent and public librarian.

    But may I say that teachers rock? I have loved all of my child's teachers and totally get what a difficult job it is.

    I personally think that part of the problem is that children are expected to learn things before their brains are ready – my daughter's fifth grade math textbook/curriculum would be more appropriate for a seventh grader. Is this an issue with teachers? No! It is an issue with textbook developers and school districts who buy texts that aren't developmentally appropriate.

    I could be completely wrong about the texts, but I am totally right that teachers are the best!!!!

    October 30, 2010 at 1:55 pm
  • Amen, Sister. Good Lord. It's like a witch hunt out there! A bunch of hysterical people getting their knickers all twisted up, thinking they know best what a teacher should do. They are going to lose out on some fabulous teachers by burning them out- at the stake!

    Just let me teach! Giving weekly assessments to be scanned and stored in the computers of the powers that be is just ridiculous! If I added it all of the time I spend on assessing and grading those mandated assessments I would add years to my life, and get to be able to teach!

    November 3, 2010 at 1:02 pm
  • Agree wholeheartedly. My administrators ask me to do more and more and more every year, month, and week; most of the "more" detracts from my effectiveness as a teacher. I am spread so thin meeting administrative demands that pull me away from innovative lesson planning, and I am frustrated by constantly hearing teachers blamed for student failure!

    I am asked to track student behavior, gather data for RTI, test, test, test without time for reflection or tweaking of instruction, teach an impossible number of content standards to mastery, give up lunches, stay late, attend pointless meetings that serve administrator's power trips with little by way of professional development, provide documentation of my goals (which also require several meetings w/ an administrator in order to be approved, followed up on, and signed off)… and on and on. Kids are pulled out so frequently for interventions, and often during the very subject they are struggling in, that I need a three page schedule just to keep track of all their comings and goings. How does this help students succeed or support more effective teaching?

    The pressure is immense to move children forward, and yet I have less and less control over what I am to teach or how I may teach it. I am held accountable for all failures, but none of the successes (Johnny is such a bright child, he'd learn no matter WHO taught him).

    When did teachers become the scapegoats for the ills of society? I have students that come to school hungry, homeless, or exhausted from babysitting all night while their single parent worked late to pay the bills. I have children whose parents are in jail. I have children who are devastatingly poor, who don't have books at home, or family cars, or even phones. How am I to overcome ALL of this?

    Teaching a child is a shared responsibility. It's time we stop blaming teachers for not being everything to everyone. We can't do it alone, and shouldn't be expected to.

    November 4, 2010 at 10:40 pm

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