Last week, the Huffington Post published an article concerning an Atlanta math teacher who was allegedly helping students cheat on standardized tests. According to the article, one colleague heard the accused teacher tell another teacher that she had to give the students the answers because they were “dumb as hell.”
Did that ruffle your feathers a little bit?
More perturbing than the article itself, and even the one I tried to read before it about a California public school teacher who moonlighted as a sex dominatrix (what the heck is going on in California’s education system right now?), were the comments that were below the article. One commenter said:
No, in some areas they really are [dumb], let’s be honest here. The children have no parental involvement and education is not enforced. In a lot of the African American communities, children are bullied for studying and getting an education is not valued. It is a horrible and vicious cycle. I taught inner city in Fayetteville, NC and teachers are getting bonus checks to teach there due to the children there. The children have no positive role models and education is not important. Gangs are more important to them, clothes are more important, drugs are a daily indulgence and showing that they will not take anything from the “man” is how they live their life. However, I busted my butt to hopefully reach a few. Even if their scores were low, that was not a reflection of me, that was a reflection of them and their upbringing.
This is not a perfect world, the United States isn’t a land of magic and rainbows where everyone has an equal opportunity and is born into a system that will foster personal growth and academic greatness. I get that. But the last sentence in this comment kills me. “that was not a reflection of me, that was a reflection of them and their upbringing.” Really? This woman can just wash her hands clean of her students’ failure? Regardless of what is going on in the personal lives, isn’t it our job as teachers to take a little more responsibility than this woman is expressing? She’s claiming having “busted her butt” to reach a few, but the others who failed, well, that wasn’t really her fault. Unfortunate as it is, teachers have been given an increasing responsibility in society to raise children because of some of the reasons that are listed in the above comment. Parents are absent, appearances, social groups and reputations are more important; this is true in a wide variety of communities and students of all ethnicities. The positive role models and reinforcers of the value in education, if not found elsewhere, are found in schools. As teachers we have power to do good for so many students. Teachers like Shayla Smith who help students cheat the system of standardized testing exemplify how much bad teachers are capable of doing as well. No, I’m not saying standardized tests are great. Standardized testing has its advantages and disadvantages, but…well, maybe I’ll save that topic for another blog post.
Where is the line drawn? When is a student’s inability to pass a test no longer the teacher’s problem? When does it become the student’s fault or the parent’s fault or society’s fault? I’m going to go ahead and say something crazy about society: Teachers, whether they believe it or not, can affect a change in society. Madness, insanity, ludicrous! Right? No. Think about all of the really good teachers you have had. What wouldn’t you have believed from them or given thought to? Now think about the really bad teachers. Did they push you to think critically, ask questions, make decisions? Good teachers can push students to strive for a better society that will value education and truth. That’s definitely the idealist in me. I don’t mean that in a literal or obvious way. What I mean is that teachers who work hard for the students who struggle and make the ones who are already achieving reach higher can lead students to a quest for something better than the gang-violence in their neighborhood or the lethargy and apathy of their suburban paradise. It’s not right in ANY sense to help students cheat or believe that they are dumb. If you think your students are dumb and incapable, this is not the job for you. Is it just as wrong to try hard for the few who might get it and then blame the student’s home life for their failure? I think so. We’re not going to reach all of our students 100% of the time, and you know what? I’m willing to bet that sometimes it is going to be our fault. The hope is that we will be the teachers who do try hard to reach everyone and not the teachers who perpetuate this belief that they will not be able to escape their surroundings. Any kid, from any place, in any socio-economic situation can achieve and rise above expectations. It takes somebody believing that they are smart and capable. It’s not about Glinda the Good Witch who tells students that they just have to believe and they will understand everything in the classroom and there’s no yellow brick road to lead them to the Emerald City where they can get whatever they want. It takes work and patience and as teachers, we are capable of giving them just that.