Now, I'm going to have to be careful with my spelling and grammar aren't I - sorry; am I not?
Respect - for students and parents alike
Responsibility - to do their job; to CARE
Represent - student's best interests
I'm moved to write about this not out of any partisan political opinion - I doubt that any political party would be able to fit me into their narrow dogmas - but from some quiet reflection about my experiences of the local education system, my own education experiences, and a very recent (i.e. this week) training course I attended.
Unsurprisingly for an aging curmudgeon such as myself, I have found myself consistently displeased with teachers who have been honoured (yes honoured: it is indeed an honour to be given this responsibility) with my children's educational development. It's fair to say, by the way, that the system of education in this small Canadian town is not exactly over-taxed by high school enrollments or a packed curriculum...
Before I take a deep breath and launch into a diatribe, I do happily acknowledge the minority of teachers (I've met some of them; I know that they are out there) who are dedicated, caring professionals - thank you for cradling my children - albeit briefly in your classrooms, and for really wanting to help them. You are a credit to your profession. I wish that all members were like you.
However, they are not...
Issues that I have unfortunately been forced to deal with include the following:
- Teachers not knowing (by name) who my child is.
- Homework set every night without any explanation of the content.
- Set and completed homework repeatedly going unmarked.
- Teachers providing 'rubber stamp' assessments and reports - and when challenged about it, having no response.
- Teachers taking two weeks off work for a strike and setting homework to be completed during the strike period!
- Teachers taking two weeks off to strike and publicly stating: 'This will not in any way adversely affect the curriculum'...
- Teachers setting huge amounts of homework all year and yet for the final four weeks of the school year having no meaningful work for the class to do.
- A teacher telling me over the 'phone (see? I used an appropriate apostrophe!) that "I am not accountable to you for how I conduct my classes." and thus effectively telling me that my child is entirely at her mercy (she backed down on that one after the top of my head exploded, by the way).
- Teachers offering banal, content-free and generic "Well ******** is a very nice young person..." remarks at parent /teacher conferences (I have stopped going just to listen to crap such as this).
- Teachers failing to respond to communications asking them questions.
- Stories from all three of my kids about teachers setting them class work ("Do chapter three.") and then spending the entire class not helping anyone or explaining anything. I don't think that's called teaching - I could do that.
I'll stop there because the list goes on and on and I'll only start frothing at the mouth and end up being quietly and calmly taken away by the men in the white coats...I know that I'm a bit grumpy but if anything actually I tend to shy away from confrontation, partly because I am able to understand that I may be mistaken about some of the issues or a pinch of salt may need to be taken with some reports - but when something leaps up and slaps me in the face, I do feel compelled to say something.
They're my children, after all.
That little sentence strikes at the heart of why I become so aggravated about some of these issues; my children, the wonderful young people in whom I have lovingly invested so much time, effort and care - these people deserve the best. What they find at school, however, falls far short of this ideal. OK, that's the system I guess - unless I can afford to pay for private tutors (and I can't), I guess I'm stuck with it. But to observe some teachers these days is to be faced with a selfish, self-centred, self-interested group of people whose main focus is NOT their professed professional care for students, but the perpetuation of their employment and improvement of their (already amazingly good) working conditions and pay.
How, for example, can a school of teaching staff return from ten weeks without students (summer vacation) and by the first day of school not be able to organize their class rosters? What were they doing during those last weeks of the previous school year when the kids were colouring (yes, really, even in middle school), making puppets or going outside for extended breaks? How can teachers fail to complete a year's curriculum? How can teachers fail to attend to an individual's learning needs? I have long ago lost track of the hours I and my wife have spent teaching and coaching our kids - helping them with stuff that I would expect them to have left the classroom understanding.
What IS teaching these days? Should the students not be the FIRST responsibility of the teacher?
My own experience this week relates to a first aid course I attended at my own expense. I should say now that I have, in a previous career, been a qualified instructor of adults in classroom settings and delivering very demanding curricula - in short, I know how to teach adults, and I know how to do it properly.
Within minutes of the class assembling and the learning beginning, it was clear that we were in trouble. Presentations were made by DVD videos followed by incredibly cursory follow-up information (there were no connected additional learning materials such as a workbook, for example) and practical exercises which were not even properly outlined or even mentioned until the 'teacher' said something like "Well, what are you waiting for?".
At the end of the first day (and for some folks, the end of their course) we had an exam. Looking down at the
(fortunately brief) exam paper, it struck me just how much of the course content had been missed - and I was apparently the only one in the room who had actually read the pre-supplied course materials! I was, quite frankly, shocked, and I would have been embarrassed to have supplied such a poor service. Those of us attending the following day were not provided with some previously promised pre-read materials for the second half of our course.
The following day I resolved to change things up a bit, and in a classroom of only five students and one teacher, I started asking as many questions as I could, in an effort to obtain as much information as possible. We battled through the appalling teaching methods (we had by this time learned that our instructor was in fact a practising teacher at a local high school!!!) - and some mis-information from this alleged expert, by the way - to the end of the day. The final ten minutes of 'instruction' included a very rapid run-through of our missing pre-read materials and an assurance that we had 'totally covered' everything in the following examination.
Perhaps needless to say, the exam contained approximately a dozen questions for which we either had received zero information, or which addressed details that we had definitely not covered.
This, then, was a teacher, being paid for private work, in the act of 'teaching'. I remain appalled at how poor his delivery was, I remain aghast that he had such little professional pride, and I fear for the forthcoming generation - no wonder they seem to have huge gaps in their learning and appreciation of how the world might be when they step out into it. They are not being helped by 'teachers' such as this. I am enjoying being a sounding board and a fount of knowledge and advice for my children, but I am also very angry that people who almost demand a certain status within the community are not only failing in their duty to students but flouting their responsibilities.
How do we stop this horrible, dangerous rot? Accountability, that's how - monitoring of teacher's classroom performances, trends and results - you know, the sorts of things the rest of us are used to being measured by, and how teachers in the UK, for example, have been measured for decades...