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Don’t Blame the Teachers

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What happens when students are not achieving? Who should be held responsible? In the urban district where I teach, some believe that teachers are to blame, so you have to change the staff in order to improve the school and student achievement.

This is the most outrageous thing I have ever heard. I can speak from personal experience: there are so many factors that come into play when students are not doing well, and more often than not teachers have very little control over what goes on in their schools. For instance, last year one student failed because he never came to school. He missed 100 days out 180. Why is that my fault?

Research has shown that teachers only influence 10% of the changes in students’ achievement; the other 90% is directly related to parental involvement, poverty level, and other factors that are outside of a teacher’s control.

Problems with achievement must be carefully and properly evaluated in order to come up with plausible solutions. There is no guarantee changing staff will fix the problem. In Los Angeles, in an attempt to make change, a large number of experienced and qualified teachers were replaced with inexperienced teachers and long-term substitutes. This move did not help resolve issues with achievement. I have seen a total turnaround in one high school in the district where I teach, in the hopes that it would help with an achievement gap. The opposite happened. Students are still performing poorly.

I do believe it would be in the best interest of all students to look into research-based solutions. The report titled Changing the Odds for Students’ Success: What Matters Most states that there are five factors that have a positive impact on student achievement: Collaborative goal setting; non-negotiable goals for achievement and instruction; board alignment and support of district goals; monitoring; and resource alignment. Unfortunately my district has pandered to political pressure by opting for the replacement of teachers instead of focusing on research-based solutions.

Teachers have become easy prey: if students are not achieving then it must be the teachers’ fault. This kind of mindset will only make a bad situation worse. Each school community has specific needs; it would be wise to come up with a comprehensive plan unique to that particular school. At best, it is foolish to have a cookie-cutter approach to solving such a complex problem. Quick fixes will only make things worse.

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About Nicole Weaver

Nicole weaver is an award-winning author. Her first trilingual book Marie and Her Friend the Sea Turtle was published in 2009. Her love for languages and other cultures resulted in publishing the award-winning book, My Sister Is My Best Friend which was published in 2011 by Guardian Angel Publishing. My Sister Is My Best Friend has won the following awards: 2012 Creative Child Awards Program consisting of moms and educators has awarded this book the 2012 PREFERRED CHOICE AWARD Kids Picture Storybooks category. 2012 Children's Literary Classics Seal of Approval 2012 Children's Literary Classics Gold Award Readers' Favorite 5 Star Review Her newest book , My Brother Is My Best Friend was also published by Guardian Angel Publishing, January 2014.
  • Kim Crawley

    Nicole, I have strong opinions about your article.

    I’m a 26 year old woman who wasn’t diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome until I was 19 (aside from being a fellow Blogcritics writer), over three years after I dropped out of school.

    Public school was a disaster for me, starting at Grade Four (Fourth Grade). The signs of Asperger’s syndrome were there, and they were strong. Plus, I had the same teacher for grades 4-6 and the same teacher for grades 7-8. Neither teacher could claim they didn’t get to know me well enough, especially since I was in the gifted program, meaning I spent more than four hours a day with them on average.

    My grade 7-8 teacher even kind of suspected I had Asperger’s syndrome, and she brought in an apparent ‘expert’ without letting the 13 year old me know. During a parent/teacher meeting later on, my teacher explained to my parents (while in my presence) that the ‘expert’ observed me in the classroom for 30 minutes, without directly interacting with me. My ability to make eye contact proved to the ‘expert’ that I didn’t have Asperger’s syndrome!

    I was highly literate as a grade school kid, with near perfect spelling, even though I had (and still have) horrible handwriting.

    During parent/teacher meetings, my parents were told that I was a very intelligent kid, but I just wasn’t trying hard enough! During one meeting, my teacher took a coloured in book report of mine and one of another student, and compared them to my mother.

    “Look at Kim’s work! Now, look at this student’s work! See how much better it looks?”

    My mother would nod agreeably, and I’d be on the verge of tears.

    The truth is, I really did try damn hard! I just couldn’t pick up on the subtle details that my peers were noticing.

    Then, consider how motivated you’d be if you were told with every assignment that you were so inferior to your peers.

    Add to that, the experience of having EVERY SINGLE KID IN THE CLASS target you for constant bullying. Imagine being singled out by ALL OF THE KIDS. Imagine being told constantly, by teachers and kids alike, that you were so inferior to everyone else.

    As a young woman, thankfully I’ve completed my GED, and I’m doing well in my college IT program- no thanks to my public school teachers.

    Nicole, I know your experience is with inner city kids. And, I’m sure the situations in their lives make it difficult for those kids to succeed, beyond their teacher’s control.

    But, often, especially for kids on the autism spectrum or with learning disabilities, there’s something their teachers can easily do.

    They need to make sure their students are properly diagnosed and receive the help that they need, instead of assuming their students aren’t trying hard enough and it’s all their fault.

    No reputable doctor would diagnose or decide to not diagnose a patient with anything by just watching them in a classroom for half an hour and NOT EVEN HAVING DIRECT CONTACT WITH THEM. That should be common sense for a teacher.

    Even though I was diagnosed at age 19, I was diagnosed by a child psychologist of whom I didn’t trust or feel comfortable with. She didn’t refer me to anyone else, as she should have.

    Now, at age 26, I STILL have never received proper support. Child psychologists aren’t considered medical doctors, so their diagnosis can’t help their patients receive social services or other help.

    I’m now on the waiting list for a neuropsychiatrist, who can make a diagnosis for me that carries medical legitimacy, so I can be classified as disabled and receive special help.

    I’d like to see the source of the research you’re citing that says that teachers only have 10% influence.

    Thanks to what happened to me, I struggled in poverty for many years until recently. Now, I have a good paying job and a spouse with a good job, but it was quite a struggle for me, something I could have avoided if a teacher set me on the right path to early diagnosis.

    Not to mention that damage that was done to my self esteem over the years.

    Maybe I should write an article here about all of this…

  • Nicole Weaver

    Hi Kim,

    Thank you for your comment. Sorry you had to go through what you did. I believe your parents should have made a more concerted effort to get you the help you needed. Additionally, your case was a very unique case, the school administrators should have been on top of what is going on. My daughter was born prematurely, which caused her a lot of problems with her speech. When she started school as a concerned parent I made sure she received the help she needed with her speech. She graduated with high honors and received a substantial amount of scholarship monies to attend college. My point in the article: it is so easy to point at the teacher as the main culprit.
    Parents, administrators play a very important role in how well students achieve in a school. What did you parents do? Perhaps they could have placed you in a different school or simply request that you be tested properly so you could have received the help you needed. As a veteran teacher of 25 years, if a student is not achieving I always consult with counselors, parents and other administrators in order to determine why the student is not doing well. Yes! it is my job as a teacher to help my students, and I do! Certain situations are out of my hands.

  • Arch Conservative

    The fact is that many teachers and administrators in the public school system are incompetent greedy hacks Nicole.

    If that weren’t true they wouldn’t need tenure or be so fearful of merit pay.

    I do blame the teachers and their unions for failing our children.

  • Nicole Weaver

    Hey Arch,
    You have a heart of gold! Thanks for your nice comment. Happy Thanksgiving!

    Nicole Weaver