A teacher friend of mine swore the other day. She had just received an email from a student. The student had emailed her the latest draft of his personal statement. Taken aback by the outburst, I enquired what was the matter. She ranted that this was the 5th attempt at a draft statement, and he had made limited, if any, progress.
“I wouldn’t mind” she said, “but I had written more or less exactly what I wanted him to write in my previous email”.
She proceeded to email back, detailing the phrases the student needed to use in his statement in order to be considered for a university place. I prodded. “What are you doing?”
“I’m writing out what he needs to write”.
“Because he won’t get a place with a statement like this!”
“So! He needs to get a place, otherwise we’ve failed him!”
I couldn’t help but feel the scene played out in front of me indicated the crux of the problem of our overworked teachers. The horse isn’t just led to water, it is dragged kicking and screaming. Teachers exert great energy hauling young people through education. Many a young person reciprocates and puts in the effort to warrant this kind of teacher-endeavour. Others do not. Others idle by expecting the work to be done for them. Yet, teachers feel the same obligation and intervene with the same energy and gusto.
A recent article in FE Week spoke of one school introducing a grading system for parents. The idea is to grade students’ parents depending upon their involvement in their child’s education. My experiences at the primary school gate suggests that there will be a core group who’ll welcome the attention, as they know they’re stellar performers. Others will complain that “teaching is their job; why should I be admonished for something that isn’t my responsibility?”
The culture of “blame the teacher” is in full swing. Poor grades? Must be the teachers fault. Poor behaviour? What’s the teacher doing to cause that! This heaps more pressure on teachers and makes the job even harder. Teachers already feel an innate responsibility for their students’ success, and now they are being overtly identified for that responsibility.
Is this attitude correct? Should teachers be ferreting over personal statements to get a kid into university? Or should we take the Darwin approach: eat or be eaten. If you can’t get your act together, then you fail, and the only person to blame is yourself. I bet the teaching profession would become far more enjoyable if a student’s success or failure was attributed to the student. Submit a terrible personal statement? Well, your teacher will keep it the same and you won’t get into university! Life’s tough. A dose of having to take responsibility early would serve a young person well.
Or would it?
Is the “survival of the fittest” analogy incorrect? Should teachers be made to carry responsibility for success and failure? Should students be spoon fed and led into the real world at a gentler pace? We’d love to hear your thoughts.