Not only are there issues of what we (parents, school leaders, even society at large) expect of teachers, but also what they expect of themselves.
At face value, this may seem like a very simplistic question and one that doesn’t require an enormous amount of thought. maybe that’s why there are so many expectations placed on teachers that might not always be wholly fair, reasonable or even very productive. However, the reality is that every profession is subject to the expectation of others, and in any field reflective practitioners have to be continually asking questions of themselves.
The link below will take you to a short article shared recently in a discussion group on LinkedIn. It comes from Ray Mathis, an ex teacher, author and speaker who challenges three big assumptions often made about what teachers are accountable for;
Broadly, the three issues the writer thinks shouldn’t be parked at teachers’ doors are pupil classroom behaviour, standardized test results and levels of pupil engagement. It’s interesting to see that, without fail, all the comments on the post agree with the writer – nobody questions any aspect of what he’s saying.
However, I think when parents ask this article they would consider themselves more than entitled to say – if teachers aren’t accountable for these things, then what are they accountable for? Are they, actually, accountable for anything at all?
If, for example, bad classroom behaviour leads to a pupil physically or emotionally hurting another pupil, is there no responsibility with the teacher? There are some who might say that is the responsibility of school management. I’ve seen schools, for example in Bangladesh, who dealt with this by having rigid rules that as soon as there was anything a teacher deemed to be misbehaviour in the classroom they were not to deal with it themselves (there was a history of teachers using corporal punishment!). Instead, they would immediately step in to the corridor and report it to a person of supervisory level – who stalked the corridors all day just to receive such reports. They would then come, remove the pupil, question them and hand out some form of punishment. However, even in this case, the choices about when to report (and how these threats might be used to control children) still lay with the teacher.
In good and effective schools no teacher is an island (with apologies to John Donne). All teachers, together with their school leaders have a collective, shared set of responsibilities shaped by the school’s vision, mission and values to create a school climate . This is made of a myriad of elements that create common shared understanding among children for the purpose of school, their role in the school, expectations about how they are to behave towards each other and their shared accountability. It’s fully acknowledged that every child comes with their own set of life experiences, that shape their individual thoughts and feelings (and as a result, their behaviours and actions).
We have all seen situations where a pupil is engaged, congruent in their behaviour and achieving to their potential in many classrooms, but has another teacher’s class in which they are demotivated, agitated, prone to act up and be disruptive. In those circumstances, are we to suggest that the individual teacher is absolved of all responsibility? Further, what are we to do about the fact that the net result is less than optimal learning and achievement, not only for that pupil but also for the others in the class?
If Mr Mathis is employed to conduct a training programme for a room full of teachers, does he have accountability for anything? If, after the first hour, some teachers become disengaged, bored and start to regret their attendance, is he accountable? If participants start to engage in time-wasting activities that undermine the objectives of the training, does he have a duty to get to grips with those issues? Of course, the accountability would be experienced very directly as Mr Mathis would be unlikely to receive further teacher training engagements. Therefore, I believe Mr Mathis accepts in those circumstances that he has a duty to make his programme engaging, to think of the needs of his learners in terms of how he delivers, how he provides for their hygiene factors and how he pitches the content at an appropriate level that acknowledges their prior experiences, their learning needs and their beliefs, thoughts and feelings.
Nobody has the right to place an obligation on a teacher of continuous perfection. However, in schools where lifelong learning is espoused for pupils (and that’s almost all schools these days) I believe the individual teacher is accountable for ownership of their own continuous quest for enhancing their skills and competence as a practitioner. There will be days when things don’t go right, but teachers need to be reflective, mature, to analyse what happens and to be building on their ‘tool kit’ as educators to have more flexibility and alternative approaches when confronted with a similar situation in future.
Teachers have a delicate relationship with the wider world. At times, it is easy for them to feel paranoid, put upon and burdened with society’s expectations placed upon them. However, I believe that we sit in a unique position, entrusted with something so precious and valuable to parents that we need to understand the sensitivity. Educators are not the only people of whom a great deal is hoped and asked, particularly when it comes to shaping the future. When we step up to take the role, we accept the weight of responsibility that goes with it. Telling the world that the accountability feels uncomfortable is not the way to move forward.
Filed under: Educators of tomorrow, Leadership, Life, School, Teaching Practice | Tagged: classroom behaviour, classroom management, LinedIn, pupil engagement, Ray Mathis, standardised testing, standardised tests, teacher accountability, teachers lounge | Leave a comment »