Yesterday on Oprah she talked about the problems in America’s public education system. As guests she had the director of the new film “Waiting for ‘Superman’,” Bill Gates, the Chancellor of Washington D.C.’s public schools, and singer John Legend. The film is about how frequently students are failed by public schools, and tries to identify the problems and solutions.
The talked about how bad teachers and principals are the problem. D.C. schools’ Chancellor’s solution is to fire ineffective teachers and principals, and her method has greatly improved the system. While many teachers jump to the defense and argue that we aren’t the problem, I think there’s something valuable in this discussion. While ineffective teachers aren’t the entire problem (there are many elements including parents, government, societal and economic disparities), ineffective teachers are a big part of the problem.
Teachers are on the frontlines and our actions impact students on a day-to-day, on the ground way that politicians’ and administrators’ decisions don’t. What a huge responsibility! While this is really intimidating, it’s also an amazing opportunity to make a huge difference in the lives of so many people. As a teacher, your impact (whether it is positive or negative) has powerful repercussions on not only your students but their families and communities.
While there are many elements involved in being an effective teacher, a major one is believing that all children can learn at high levels and holding high expectations for all. I think that a failure to hold all students to a high standard is a way in which many teachers fail students. Expecting less of particular students or even certain groups of students does not prepare them for college, success, or the working world. Expecting less is giving up on students and something no teacher should to if they want to make a positive difference. A staggering number of children are failed because their teachers expect less of them. Students cannot achieve excellence if the bar is set low for them. This plague of low expectations is beginning to show its head in the form of plummeting SAT scores (in Georgia at least), a less equipped workforce, and rapidly declining graduation rates. A hard but necessary step to combat this is for individual teachers in individual classrooms to hold all of their students to high standards in academics, behavior, and responsibility.
Going easy on students may seem like the “nice” thing to do, but ultimately it does students a gross disservice. Until every teacher in every classroom steps up to set the bar high for each and every one of their students, believes students can achieve great things, and makes the effort to equip students for great success, we will not see the positive change in American public education that we so desperately need.