It is Friday and the final bell of the school day rings, students leave, the halls are silent, and the school week is over. Leaning back in my chair I close my eyes and reflect on the week. What did I teach my students this week? Was I an effective teacher? Did I fulfill my contractual obligations?
It is hard to believe I am doing a good job when 80% of my students fail to turn in assigned homework, 40% either do not complete or don't turn in class work, and 50% do not pass major exams. When I ask them about this, the students say they don't care because they will be passed on to the next grade anyway. They always are. At most, the students tell me, they will have to go to summer school where they will hang out with friends, do a little easy work, and play games. To make matters worse, I have been told I cannot give a failing grade to more than 10% of my students. If I have more than 10% failures, I will be put on a growth plan because if I were an effective teacher, I wouldn't have that many failures. The sad thing is that I am not alone. Many other teachers are in the same dilemma.
The state mandates that students are taught certain information based on their standards. The federal government dictates that our students master certain information based on their standards. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) enacted in 2004 has been the backbone for federal standards. Today this law has been gutted through Executive action and states can chose whether or not to follow NCLB as originally legislated. States which choose not to follow NCLB are given waivers by the Department of Education. Federal control remains even though educational standards have been relaxed. School districts must balance both sets of requirements in their attempt to educate children.
An article written by Robert K. Blomstedt (1996), talks about the five" R's." We grew up hearing about the three "R's" of reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic, but this article added two more--responsibility and respect. While all five of these ideas are dependent on each other in some form, the following discussion will focus on responsibility and respect because without these two, there is not much learning of reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic.
Unfortunately, many have taken the position that NCLB intended for teachers to be the ones solely responsible for student learning. If the student fails, it is the fault of the teacher. This cannot realistically be the meaning of NCLB. The teacher is required to provide a high quality, meaningful experience for the children in the classroom. This is the essence of the teacher's job. If a teacher isn't fulfilling this obligation, s/he should be (re)trained so s/ he is able to do so or be replaced to maintain quality in the classroom.
"The U.S. is one of the few countries in the world that places the majority of the burden for learning on the shoulders of teachers. This notion is alien to teachers in most of the countries that are our competitors in the new global economy" (Gardner, 2011, p. 1). Even the best teachers are not effective when their students are not interested and have no encouragement from home. Where is the responsibility of the parents? Does parental responsibility cease as soon as the child steps into a school classroom for the first time (Gardner, 2011)?
A large part of the problem is society. In 1946, Harry Truman signed the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act (P.L. 79-396) which created the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and provided free and reduced priced lunches for qualified school children.(Wikipedia) In 1966, Lyndon Johnson expanded the NSLP with the Child Nutrition Act to include breakfast. Today some districts provide an evening meal and some provide meals throughout the summer (Wikipedia). Some school districts have bathed children, washed their hair, and given them clean clothes because of the condition in which they came to school. …