We interrupt our regular programming for a little truth…
As it happens, I started working on this piece weeks ago, but wasn’t ready to publish it for a couple reasons. I wasn’t really ready to upset everyone right after beginning this blog site, and it still needed some kinks worked out. But in light of the recent school shooting in Florida, I don’t feel that it should be held off any longer. In typical fashion, people all over the country are jumping on the gun control bandwagon and ignoring the glaringly obvious issues because they don’t want to face the role they have played in it. So I guess that’s what my job will be today.
I have been working in education for over ten years now. I’ve been a substitute, a long-term substitute, a full-time teacher for a number of years teaching every high school grade level in multiple content areas across two states and multiple districts, and a higher education admin studying school counseling. What I’m saying is that my experience isn’t specific to one school or one town. I’ve spent years wearing myself out, working 80-hour weeks at times to do my very best for my students and it never bothered me to do that as long as I knew that what I did mattered. I want to stress that my reasons for not teaching now or at any point in my career, never included the kids and I can say with quite a bit of certainty that every former teacher would say the same thing. I have had some of the most incredible students- beautiful, bright kids who made me love showing up every day. But those were the days when I was allowed to just be a teacher. Those days are over.
In that time I have been the victim of the demoralization of my profession as teachers are continually blamed for the product that is turned out with no regard to the product that we had to work with, and I’ve dealt with the “restructuring” of education through multiple policies on a yearly basis expecting instant results. I have been evaluated on every single thing, including how well I filled out paperwork and put together documents (that’s not a joke), but never on what truly mattered- the fact that I changed lives and helped countless students, many of whom I still hear from to tell me so. I have spent this time truly observing what is happening around me and the world of education and there is a clear misconception that needs to be cleared up.
Education does not build society, society builds education.
There is no question that there is a clear problem in our education system, but it’s not with education. I am going to say the thing that no one wants to say or hear- there is a clear problem with our society. Change all the policies you want, “restructure” the education system as often as you’d like; it will not solve the problem. There has to be a fundamental change within our society if we are ever to see changes happen in education. And more than anything- we need to quit comparing our education system to that of other countries who do not have the same levels of diversity, nor do they place so much emphasis on the mental health and well-being of their students. Countries that allow tracking of students, still have caste-systems, who allow failure- cannot be set side by side with us with the expectation that we would match up. It’s apples to oranges. It is an unfair and inaccurate comparison. Stop it.
There are some facts that need to be pointed out.
First– Our society does not value education the way it used to. They spend more time talking about the need for it, yet do not place enough value on it to make it a priority. This is where budget cuts happen first, where mass transformation is always attempted without even speaking to the people who actually have to implement it and getting their input, and where the least respect is given to the professionals involved. Yet, teachers are now expected to be mother/father, mental health specialist and counselor, nurse, special education expert, content expert, friend, coach, and teacher, just to name a few. Can you do all of this and feel like you’re doing a good job? I would bet not.
You cannot send your kids to school for everything.
Something has to happen at home. If you do not discipline them at home, help them with their homework, or teach them anything at home, there isn’t much a teacher is going to be able to accomplish. Too much time is spent putting out the fires they show up with.
Second– I know everyone wants to believe that No Child Left Behind was a great thing, but I’ll be very honest- as soon as you made it mandatory to get everyone through- you automatically lowered the bar. You created an environment where teachers have to teach to the lowest common denominator. I frequently had students at the high school level who were three grade levels below where they should be in reading and I’m supposed to get them up to grade level in a year while also challenging the students who are where they should be? Uh huh. Three things happen when you do that: 1) you have made a lot of kids feel they are achieving at a level that they really aren’t, which makes their lives more difficult once they are out of high school, 2) have now instead of leaving the lowest level kids behind, have stopped truly challenging the highest achieving kids. They get bored in class and become your biggest behavior problems. Teachers try to combat that by increasing activities to keep those kids busy as they wait for the others to catch up, but the kids don’t want to do it so it becomes a constant fight that teachers no longer have the authority to handle. I know what you’re thinking- why not put those kids in a higher level course, right? Well, half of them don’t want to do the work so they won’t go and we can’t make them. If they do get into a tougher course and don’t like it, they get their parents to get them out of it. The worst part is when these kids start being diagnosed as ADD/ADHD and put on IEPs or 504 plans rather than held accountable or challenged. And let’s be honest about something else at this point as well…
Administrators and policies are not running schools. Parents are. Period.
And every single parent thinks their child is the end-all-be-all of life and deserves one-on-one attention for every single thing. Well parent, get in line with the other 1700+ parents that believe the same thing, each expecting it from the 1 teacher in a class of 35-40 every hour/ up to 240 per day, and the 1 counselor to every 400+. It is impossible. And when your kid is a major behavior problem because you haven’t required anything more of him/her, it makes it even harder. In this case, most parents also harbor a double standard of “don’t discipline my kid for anything, but how dare you not discipline the other kid who is acting just like mine and taking away from my child’s education.” You can’t have it both ways. And 3) the entire level of education goes down. I have always been allowed to teach to a high level of rigor, however, I have not been allowed to hold the students accountable to my expectations so then what’s the point? I have been continually asked to make exceptions for students, or flat out disregard rules and policies in order to pass students who quite frankly didn’t deserve to nor did they have the skills. If teachers attempt to maintain the rigor, more students fail and administrators will not allow that because of the pressure for funding and support, not to mention they again do not want to deal with their bosses- the parents who think their kids are being treated unfairly. Speaking of parents, let’s discuss a few different types that exist.
There are the “stealth bombers” – parents who you have been emailing and calling in an attempt to prevent their kid from falling behind and/or failing and they are nowhere to be found. However, when their kid ends up failing they appear out of the ether ready to attack and blame you, the teacher, for the failure instead of their kid.
Our favorite parents (please insert sarcastic tone here) are what we call “helicopter parents.” These are the parents that are overly involved. They are so involved that their children are not given any opportunity to figure anything out for themselves. These are the parents that call or email you every time you put a grade in asking why their student missed a point. You think I’m exaggerating, but no, I’m not. These are also the parents that believe every single thing that comes out of their child’s mouth regarding what took place in class and how they aren’t being helped, or whatever other bs they come up with to explain why they aren’t achieving to their parents’ expectations. I love hearing about incidents that never actually happened in class and being yelled at for it by someone who clearly has no clue who their kid really is. I’m sorry to say, but YOUR KID IS NOT PERFECT! I know, I’m such a jerk, but I see these parents try to follow their kids to college and continue this practice, and when they are denied access they and their child are at a loss. This is not healthy for anyone.
Another type that has been popping out of the woodwork more frequently recently are called “lawnmower parents.” These are the parents that mow down any possible obstacle that may be in the path of their kids. I understand that they do this thinking they are being great parents taking care of their kids, but the reality is that they are preventing them from learning extremely necessary and valuable skills. Again this is about learning how to problem-solve, face adversity, and cope with those things that the real world has in store for them. You’re not doing them any favors. I promise.
The last kind of parent I’m going to discuss is the “friend.” These are the parents who, for some reason, have decided it’s more important to be their child’s friend than it is to be their parent and actually teach them something and build them into solid human beings. These are the parents buying vape pens, cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs for their children and their friends, and on top of that are getting wasted with them. Yes, this is a real thing happening and I’m going to say if this applies to you- shame on you and knock it off. There are teachers who are guilty of wanting to be a friend over being an authority figure too, and I’ll say the same thing- knock it off! Kids are not in any position to be in control! They need direction and guidance. They respect consistency, being pushed to do better, and being held accountable. They may resist at first because they aren’t used to it, but it is part of a skill set that they need to learn in order to be successful. You have to maintain a balance. I know this is possible. Being an authority figure is not the same as being mean- let’s make sure that is clear. Kids do not have the maturity to do it all. That’s what you are there for so do it.
If you want someone else to tell you, read the following:
Third– by giving everyone a medal, you have ruined kids. The moment you took away failure, you also took away success. You cannot have one without the other. And what is worse, you took away motivation. If you never fail, what will motivate you to get better? If you know you will be awarded the same prize no matter where you rank- why push yourself? I will tell you, most kids won’t and aren’t. When asked to achieve they cower and cry saying they feel attacked rather than what is truly happening, they are being held accountable. Kids no longer know the difference. As a society we have convinced them that they are perfect for no other reason than because they exist and no effort is required of them because we will get them through. Does everyone have to fail in order to be great? No, but the threat of failure has to exist. The idea that someone else may be better than them and take their spot in whatever it is has to be a real possibility to them. Most have heard the saying…
“Hard work will always overcome natural talent when natural talent does not work hard enough.”
This has gotten lost in translation somewhere along the line. Kids don’t understand that it isn’t enough to just want it, or to be good at it. There has to be a solid effort involved or that desire and talent will amount to nothing. We have done them a disservice by not allowing them to fail.
Fourth– kids now have zero problem-solving or coping skills and again- this is not their fault. This is the fault of parents and society not doing their job. By never allowing them to fail, they have stopped solving problems in order to succeed and they have no ability to cope with rejection when the real world smacks them in the face. They get to college and fail their classes because they believe they can skate by as they always did in k-12- that someone will come along and save them at the last minute and prevent the failure. I spend so much time listening to college freshmen having complete mental breakdowns in the area by my office because they don’t know how to cope with that, nor do they know how to come up with a strategy to solve it. Or outside of the education world, they assume that just because they submitted a resume or application that they automatically have the job and do not know how to handle the rejection that comes with not getting said job. When they do get a job and are faced with adversity at work, rather than problem-solving and getting better, they quit and look for another job. They do that over and over again, blaming everyone else for their inadequacies and honestly- at this point that is fair. We have created these little monsters.
I am going to tie this into a sensitive issue that is going to upset a lot of people, but is true nonetheless, and that’s bullying. I’m going to say another thing that a lot of people think, but don’t want to say out loud-
There is a time and place for some types of bullying.
Yep, you read that right. Bullying will never go away, no matter what we want to believe or what policies and consequences we put into place. Instead, it has become more sophisticated, cruel, and behind the scenes (i.e. cyberbullying). The problem that truly exists is the lack of coping skills kids have when dealing with bullying. Bullies have risen to the level they are currently because their methods are so effective. Bullying, in the mild forms of teasing, taunting, etc., is an unfortunate part of human existence, but it provides an opportunity to overcome adversity, to learn how to handle difficult people, to recognize one’s own worth, and grow above what is put before you. Then when the more destructive forms of bullying arise: cyberbullying, physical attacks, and the like, it would not be as devastating because they have already learned so many skills to overcome it. When you are never forced to look at yourself and find within you the reasons that you are amazing, they are hard to pull forward when someone else is telling you otherwise. If you are told you are awesome your entire life for no reason whatsoever, with nothing to really back it up, how do you really defend yourself when someone calls it into question? Regardless of how this seems, I am all about empowerment. I spent my entire career building kids up, but I did it with the truth. I didn’t sugar coat life for them and I pushed them to find worth in themselves, by themselves. The way of our world is not sunshine and roses. It is one of competition. You don’t have to like that, and you don’t have to accept it if you don’t want to, but it doesn’t make the fact any less real. Kids have to toughen up and develop a desire to be better or they will always struggle.
There are a great many issues that our society is facing, but rather than picking particular avenues to tear apart and try to “fix”, we need to look within at our values and priorities. The recent school shooting is a prime example. As I mentioned at the beginning, people of this country automatically jumped to the conclusion that the problem is gun control, but it’s not. The problem is the mental health of our kids. They are committing suicide at unprecedented rates, and we are producing more and more sociopaths, psychopaths, and kids demonstrating serial killer behaviors. Should they have guns? Absolutely not, but why isn’t anyone asking why these kids want to use those guns to shoot up a school? Or why their first instinct is to kill people with them? I’m not saying anything new when I point out that having stricter gun laws will not prevent the people that shouldn’t have guns from getting them; it will only prevent the people that need them from having protection against those that shouldn’t.
The pendulum has to start swinging back in the other direction to fix the mess that has been made with our kids. Education and every other entity will restructure automatically with the shifts society makes. It always has. Do the research. It has always worked this way. Policies aren’t created and then society follows. Society shifts and then policies are made to try to make that shift as safe and easy as possible for those involved. If you don’t like the policies, your problem isn’t with that system, it’s with the state of society. Change starts with each of us and as society changes, education will reflect it.
I’m going to include a video that I saw after writing this. The talk is by Simon Sinek. He mentions a few of the things that I do, but from a corporation standpoint and what is happening to these kids out in the workforce. It’s powerful and right on so I recommend taking the few minutes to watch it.
To end on a better note I want to provide a…
*Quick side-note from the teacher part of me to help your student:
First: If you have little kids or are about to have kids I am going to give you one of the best ways to help your kids succeed in school. Are you ready? It’s revolutionary… READ. Grab a real, solid book with pages (remember those?) and read to them. Read to them until they can sit with you, and then read with them. Let them follow along and see the words. When they are able, let them read to you, and continue this practice. That’s it. This alone will help them with vocabulary, grammar, spelling, sentence structure, critical thinking and judgment. That is just one of many strategies, but I can tell you that this alone would have tremendously changed the situation for so many of my students. What I found when so many of my students hated school was that they were just struggling. By not being able to read properly, they then struggled with problem-solving in math, science, social studies, and everything else they came across. I would have hated school too if I struggled with literally everything. Save them the pain of this and help them from the beginning. Just read.
Second- Participate in your child’s learning. Sit down with them and work on homework. Talk to them about what they learned in class and don’t let them get away with saying “nothing” or avoiding it all together. Participate in their lives. Push them. Hold them accountable for their actions, words, and behaviors. Talk to them and keep an open mind about the things they tell you. Be a parent first, and you will become their friend through a mutual respect.
I recognize there are a lot of things that I did not address that I could have. This topic is huge along with all the things I have witnessed and experienced. To go through all of them would just be impossible. My purpose is to make it clear that our kids are not the problem. What we have created in them is and it is a burden they will have to carry until we change it. We need to start setting them up for success instead of failure and we can only do that by allowing them to fail.