I have watched conditions unfold over the last 30 years that have led me to believe that the problems in education are not the educators, but the expectations placed on educational institutions and the teachers.
Schools are one of the focal points within communities. Public schools are mandated by law to accept all eligible students. Schools become the crucible in which children of all differing abilities, cultures, social economic statuses, race, religions, learning traditions, and families are cast into, with the goal of becoming literate members of society. This was a goal of Horace Mann the father of American Education. Not only was he the strongest 19th century proponent of universal public education, but he founded the “normal schools” for the training of teachers. He felt that the crucible effect would positively benefit not only the individual student but society as a whole. The universal school system has been instrumental in forming the singular American identity.
Educators have been trained to educate. They are not trained to be psychotherapists, psychologists, social workers, nannies, nurses or conflict mediators. But, social problems requiring the skills of these other professions are what precisely teachers must deal with on a daily basis. On top of that, many teachers are standing alone without the support of student’s families or the support of the community. School administrations are also unable to deal with the avalanche of problems that walk through the door. They are lucky, in some circumstances, to be able just to maintain order and protect the students and teachers from physical harm.
Many of the schools that have the lowest performance are also the schools that are inundated with the most social problems. These schools are normally serving the most impoverished communities with the least amount of public support for the school and the educational process. When these troubled schools are compared to schools found in other areas that are not subjected to the immense social problems; it is not surprising that schools in the suburbs and rural areas perform much better. Even the most dedicated and competent teacher would have difficulty in the problem schools.
When we evaluate teachers, are we evaluating their competency as teachers or are we evaluating them on managing the social problems of their students. It is clear to me that remove the social issues interfering with learning, then performance will raise to that of rural and suburban schools.
Let’s keep our expectations real for education and schools. Teachers have unjustly been scapegoated for the school’s inability to overcome the social problems, which lead to unsatisfactory performance.