In a previous article, and much to the annoyance of several colleagues, I shared with readers 5 ways in which I think we fail our students. I listed absenteeism; tardiness; malingering; lethargic engagement; and lack of effective planning and preparation among the behaviours that thwart the academic success of our students. In this article, as promised, I share 5 more ways in which we fail our students.
1. Deficiencies in Subject Matter Knowledge
Some teachers do demonstrate significant gaps in their knowledge base. This is perhaps true for only a small minority. However, the idea that teachers do not know much about the subjects they teach should be quite disconcerting. The dearth of knowledge may be as a result of poor pre-service preparation and failure to keep abreast with new developments in the discipline. Out-of-field teaching, i.e., the practice of deploying teachers to teach subject areas in which they have little or no expertise, is also quite common. Further, given the dynamic nature of knowledge, it is reasonable to expect gaps to emerge from time to time. However, it becomes problematic when teachers do little or nothing to correct these deficiencies.
2. Failure to Learn from Best Practices and Exemplary Models of Teaching
Good teachers, it is often said, begin with emulating their own teachers. This suggests that one could learn from the environment in which they are expected to grow professionally. Growth also comes from reflecting on one’s own practice with a view to seeking ways to constantly improve. Another path to improvement is marked by researching best practices and exemplary models that one could adapt to one’s own context. However, many of our teachers ignore such practices. As a result, their performance in the classroom is often devoid of any effective pedagogy.
3. Absence of Creativity and Resourcefulness
Teachers do encounter challenges in our quest to promote student success. These challenges do call on us to demonstrate creativity and resourcefulness. Sometime we have to step out of the confines of the classroom, the curriculum and even the rules, for the benefit of our students. This may be seen as going beyond the “wall of duty”. Every so often, in teaching and learning, situations arise that test our capacity to be creative and resourceful. A positive response to such circumstances, more often than not, redounds to the good of our students. Unfortunately, many of us are not prepared to be stretched and we allow precious potential teaching moments to slip by.
4. Demonstrating Lack of Empathy and Compassion
I have heard students referred to some of us as “cold”. This is more than a slang used to describe a hard task master and strict disciplinarian. The term is also used to define teachers who show little or no empathy and compassion for the students under their care. Being an effective teacher involves much more than teaching students to excel in their studies. It also involves making a positive impact on their very souls. This requires a certain level of sensitivity to their socio-emotional needs. It also calls for a demonstrable acknowledgment of their essence as human beings. In short, empathy and compassion for our students are vitally necessary for students’ growth and development throughout life. It appears as if some teachers do not even begin to understand and accept this point.
5. Staying on the Job despite Hatred for the Job
Some teachers hate teaching! However, they are stuck with the job since it’s a steady source of income no matter how small the salary. Should something better come along, such teachers would make a hasty exit. Teaching calls for passion, drive, discipline and commitment. Many of our teachers lack these qualities. This is evident in many of the behaviours highlighted in these articles. There are many recalcitrant teachers in the service only “marking time”. Meanwhile, their students suffer. Ronnie Thwaites, the Minister of Education in Jamaica, recently issued an impassioned plea for such teachers in that country to, “Go!” In St. Vincent a similar call from the authorities is necessary. Teachers who hate the job, for whatever reasons, should do themselves and their students a favour and just quit.
While the academic success of our students is dependent on a wide array of connected factors, I strongly contend that teachers and our behaviours are the most critical. Teachers are expected to teach! This involves doing everything within one’s capabilities to ensure that all of our students are successful.
Whenever students fail to learn, it means that teachers failed to teach. This statement may be platitudinous but it is nonetheless true. Currently, there are too many failing students in our schools. As teachers, we cannot and must not absolve ourselves of the blame for this situation.
First published in the Week End Searchlight of March 20, 2015
I strongly hold the view that teachers are solely responsible for the academic success of the students in their charge. This is a position I have adopted during more than three decades as a classroom practitioner with a penchant for research and reflection. During this time, I have observed and interacted with the good, the bad and the indifferent colleague in our classrooms. While the vast majority of us make a great effort to ensure the academic success of our students, there are those in the “stubborn minority” who do the exact opposite. These teachers fail our students. In this brief article, I wish to share five ways in which they do so.
Absenteeism among teachers is rife throughout the system. It is not unusual to have as much as 10-20% of a given staff out for the day, the entire day, every day. I challenge any school in this country that could boast of 100% teacher attendance on a consistent basis. If there is any, it is extremely rare.
Teachers fail to “show up” for a variety of reasons. These may include illness, personal business, workshops, and meetings, all of which are “legitimate”. There are also those who simply fail to show. Consider what this means for a school and classroom when even the smallest number of teachers are absent on a regular basis.
Compounding the issue of absenteeism is that of tardiness. Several teachers arrive to school late. In some schools, there are teachers who “stroll” in long after the first bell, prayers, assembly and roll-call. They are hardly ever present to participate in the traditional routines that signal the commencement of each school day.
At some institutions, chaos ensues and persists at the beginning of each day as some principals struggle to establish order in the wake of absent and tardy teachers. Indeed, I do believe that some students see no need to be there on time since “Miss” or “Sir will not be there!
This, for me, is perhaps the most annoying practice of all, malingering. Teachers are present but they “choose” not to attend to their classes in a timely manner. Instead of reporting to class, these teachers sit around and gossip in the staffroom; they huddle in small groups in the office; they stand around on the corridor or some other place; they pause on their way to class and take time to make or take a phone call, invariably on their Smartphones. Some even find the slightest of reasons to return to the staffroom and just linger until the bell rings to signal a change of session. One can only imagine the enormous amount instructional time that goes to waste as a result the annoying practice of malingering.
4. Lethargic engagement
This is another way of saying that some teachers are lackadaisical. They go into the classroom and do little or nothing to effectively engage their students. They may scrawl something on the chalkboard then sit as their charges “take charge”. Some of them turn their backs to the class and attempt to fill the board with “notes”. They may even sit at the teacher’s desk as one half of the class crowd around them while the rest are left up to their own devices. Indeed, casual observation often reveals a teacher who refuses to or is unable to connect with the students under her care. It appears to be the result of lethargy. Hence, I refer to such behaviour as “lethargic engagement”.
5. Lack of effective planning and preparation
The best lessons are the result of extensive planning and preparation. Unfortunately, this point has been lost on many of our teachers. Unprepared lessons end abruptly or go long over the stipulated time. The objectives, if any, are never ever achieved. The classes tend to lack focus and both teacher and students show little or no enthusiasm during the session. Although it is a requirement that teachers write lesson plans, quite a number of them fail to do so. Instead they appear to be guided by “old notes” in their possession. Or, they move from chapter to chapter in a slavish commitment to a prescribed text. In the end, very little is accomplished and our students suffer the harmful consequences
The essential role of the teacher in students’ academic success cannot be over emphasized. Unfortunately, there exist a significant number of colleagues throughout the system who engage in behaviours and practices that negate our mission as educators. I have touched on a few. In a subsequent article I propose to examine five other sets of behaviours among colleagues that are responsible for the failure of so many students to achieve academic success.
First published in the Mid Week Searchlight of March 17, 2015
As a parent, you send your child to school with the reasonable expectation that she would be safe. You expect that the school authorities, teachers and administrators, would do whatever is necessary within the ambit of applicable rules, regulation and laws to ensure that your child is educated in a safe environment. But, lo and behold, your child suffers a grave bodily injury, allegedly, due to the apparent neglect of the said authorities. What do you do? What are your options?
A few weeks ago, a local newspaper reported that a young female student lost sight in on of her eyes after a “one sided” with a male student. This incident is alleged to have occurred in the classroom. It is said that the young lady was struck repeatedly in the right eye, resulting in a complete loss of sight. Subsequent reports revealed that the alleged perpetrator of this heinous act was arrested and charged by the police. Up to the point of writing this, he was on bail and awaiting trial.
This incident, horrible as it is, raises a number of questions in my mind. Apart from the obvious culpability of the offending student and ultimately his parents, what of the school, the teachers, the principal and the authorities? Should they not be held liable for dereliction of duties? What was the school’s role in preventing such an incident from occurring? Can the authorities and all those responsible be sued? What if it were your child, how would you have responded?
In light of the facts as reported in the press, I would like to make a few general observations. A few of our secondary schools are staffed by some delinquent teachers and weak administrators. They often combine to engender a school climate in which declining discipline and disorder become rampant. It is in such a climate that children are allowed to engage in rowdy and violent acts such as the one in question. When grave injury is the suffered by a student, should we not hold teachers and administrators culpable?
If a school cannot instill discipline, what is the point?
I am veteran teacher in the secondary school system. I have given over thirty years of service to our nation’s children. Ever so often though, I have to protest loudly against the mess that we allow to persist. I write today about the growing prevalence of indiscipline and the apparent enthronement thereof.
The appalling conduct of of many students manifest itself in several ways. Among these are:
- chronic late coming;
- unexcused absences;
- refusal to bring required material to class;
- absconding from classes;
- engaging in violent behaviour;
- wanton acts of vandalism;
- disrespect for each other and those in authority;
- open defiance;
- lewd and despicable behaviour.
Sometimes the situation is so terrible that one gets the distinct impression that students “run things”. Furthermore, the despicable conduct is often supported by parents and even the wider community.
Efforts to effectively address the problems associated with indiscipline are often met with resistance, particularly from misguided parents. At times, the response from the competent authorities can at best be describe as apathetic. They often appear unwilling to or incapable of confronting these issues head on. Hence, principals and teachers are all but helpless in the midst of this growing culture of indiscipline in our schools. But, if a school cannot instill discipline, what is the point?
To be sure, there are many decent students who show up. They are regular and punctual; they complete all assigned tasks in pursuit of their education; and above all, they conduct themselves in an appropriate manner at all times. However, our frustration comes from those who are bent on doing the exact opposite. Indeed, they are the ones in charge!
Is it any wonder then, that across the nation that academic performance is barely mediocre? Should we be surprised at the unacceptable rates of class repetition; dropouts and the high levels of failure on tests of basic competencies in literacy and numeracy?
Left as it is, the problem of indiscipline in schools tend to translate into scores of youths, mainly males, who offend the legal system on a regular basis. Indeed, there could well be a direct link between the decline in discipline and what appears to be a growing crime wave, particularly among the youths.
This is a simple plea for us to arrest the problem before it gets further out of control. The schools, the authorities, the parents and and the wider community must get together and carefully examine the situation. We should then collaboratively craft strategies that are designed to stem the decline in discipline and decorum among our young people.
Here is the link to a story recently carried by the Jamaica Gleaner. Read it! Could this be about SVG too? Is it not time that we start such a discussion? I am ready. Are you?
I have a six-year old friend who entered grade one last September. This was the beginning of his second year in primary school. I was going through my friend’s book bag (which I thought was quite big and heavy for a six-year old) when I came across a 100 page hard cover note book. I asked my friend what was he doing with this big “note book” in his bag. He responded, “Miss say we have to bring it to write notes”. Write notes? At six?
Here is another situation that plays itself out over and over on a daily basis. Almost every time I enter a classroom, I meet the black board filled with “notes”. Invariably, I have to give the students a few minutes of my period to “write down” the notes that Miss or Sir left for them. And, as you may well appreciate, all 80 square feet of the black board is emblazoned with “notes” from left to right and top to bottom.
It is therefore no wonder that the typical teen-ager finds school to be excruciatingly boring. After all, they are made to sit for hours and copy badly written “notes” from a black board. Alternatively, they must listen and write as Miss or Sir “call notes”. Unfortunately for the children of the 21st century; the children of the education revolution; “notes calling” and “notes writing” still remain as significant instructional strategies for too many teachers.
As a student, I found “notes calling” and “notes writing” to be painfully monotonous. I simply could not keep up. I often waited eagerly for my teacher to pause and offer some “explanation” of his or her “notes”. In fact, I even developed the technique of deliberately asking a slew of questions to delay the resumption of “notes calling” or “notes writing”. It did not always work though! With the urgency of covering the material foremost in their minds, my teachers would stop the questioning and stick to their notes!
As a teacher of history and social studies, two subjects notorious for “notes”, I choose not to “dictate notes”. I never did and I never will. Furthermore, I use the black board sparingly. In fact despite Charles Best’s excellent tutoring at the SVG Teachers College, I never learnt to apply the effective uses of the black board in my classroom!
We are now in the digital age and all that it implies. I prefer to refer to these times as the post black board era. Today, there are countless effective alternatives to “calling” and “copying” notes. Yet, the practice is still so ubiquitous in our school system. That is why I am calling on the SVG Teachers Union to conduct a series PD workshops on the theme: Making the Black Board Obsolete- Interesting Alternatives for Engaging Students with Educational Material.
In the meantime, I feel it for those six-year olds like my young friend who have to lug a bag of hard cover note books to and from school and who must sit and copy copious notes from the black board or as Miss dictates. Perhaps, all of this would be eliminated when every child and every teacher are in posession of the digital tools to make teaching and learning engaging, exciting and enlightening in this the digital age.