Letting Them Teach
by Marissa K. Lingen
I had a wonderful high school English teacher. He was tough, demanding that we learn to do better than our best in every paper. He taught me to write with ease and efficiency that have served me well in college and my professional life. Everyone who took his senior honors class with me came out better writers, more literate, and more aware of the world around us.
He’s now under fire from the administration for failing too many students. Evidently the school district has a “profile” which states a maximum percentage of students to earn failing grades.
“What am I supposed to do?” he asked me in his last letter. “Lots of these kids show up without having read the assignment. They don’t even bring their books to class. Am I supposed to pass them for showing up?” Evidently he’s supposed to. But he won’t do it.
He is part of a vanishing breed. Instructors often get bonus pay according to student evaluations of their classes. Unfortunately, one recent study showed that for every 10 percent increase in material learned, the instructor’s rating by the students decreased by half a point on a four point scale. Having more expectations for kids means unhappy kids and parents.
Does that mean we should stop listening to kids? Of course not. It means that we should start teaching our kids responsibility for their actions. In some cases, this means teaching them that they need to show up for class ready to learn. Sometimes it means that we need to teach them responsible evaluation skills: that whether we like a person and whether they’re doing a good job are not always the same thing. Sometimes we need to teach them that their voices do matter, that what they say about other people can change their lives, so they need to think carefully about it. And we need to teach them that it’s good to be challenged, and to grow smarter, that someone who helps them in this should be cherished and not resented.
There are plenty of bad teachers out there, and certainly some parental complaints are justified. But no teacher should be penalized for doing his or her best to help students learn.