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