I Get E- Mails…..

Mar 21, 2012 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

I was recently forwarded an e-mail from Tom Watkins about a column or posting by Dave Murray. The overarching question that was discussed is below:

When does a concern become criticism, and criticism become bashing?

People are entitled to be concerned about the education that their children are receiving. I am concerned about the writing skills, the writing instruction, and the math, science, geography, history, social studies, and art and music instruction ( as well as the P.E. Instruction ) that students should be receiving.

Parents need to be concerned about teachers that are teaching ” on waivers “. In other words, a teacher who majored in math and or science is teaching German or Language Arts. Often this is referred to as ” teaching out of subject area ” or teaching on a waiver. In these instances, a teacher is given a certain amount of time to become ” highly proficient ” in their area.

Citizens should be concerned about class size. In other words, before criticizing a teacher, individuals should know a bit about the average class size that a teacher is responsible for. In the United States of America, there are fifty states, and I am sure that class size varies from New York to New Orleans and from Texas to Alaska. I am also pretty sure that the culture that a student grows up in may have a bit to do with their achievement motivation- Hawaii is different than Alaska and Maine is different than Florida.

Teachers should be concerned about the present level of performance of students entering their classes. If a student is entering the 8th grade, for example, and the student is reading at a fifth grade level, perhaps some concern is warranted.

Teachers should be teaching the curriculum. When a good deal if their time is spent doing remediation, this is cause for concern. The teacher should be concerned, the principal should be concerned and the parent should be concerned.

Should teachers be criticized or bashed ? We must first be aware of the make up and the special needs that teachers are often held accountable for and the amount of training that they may have received. I have nothing against children who might have been diagnosed or labeled with autism or pervasive developmental delay. But I have some concerns about a teacher having to instruct a child without being adequately trained to teach children who might be autistic, or have autism. The same goes for Traumatic Brain Injury which involves neuro-fatigue and other related problems.

Class size is one factor that individuals may want to be aware of, but class heterogeneity is another. Often, homogeneous classes are quite easy to teach, even with large numbers. Granted the pupil may not get the individual attention, but progress is often apparent with these standardized tests.  Class heterogeneity can be defined in many different ways- by the number of different children with special needs, with the number of children from different racial, ethnic or cultural groups.

Certainly there is a small number of teachers who should be encouraged to retire early. But the vast majority attempt to grow professionally and cope with discipline and behavior problems that may have been inappropriately placed in regular or general education.

Certainly there are people who make gross generalizations about teachers and that may constitute ” bashing “.  Motivating children to want to learn is a difficult chore. Most critics may not have been in a school or classroom for any length of time. Some “bashers” have no understanding of the developmental process that children go through, nor the social issues that they often face in schools.

Some teachers coach after school, and some perform various other duties after school. This makes for a long day. Many teachers grade papers and correct grammar, syntax, spelling, sentence structure, dangling participles, missing commas, and periods and other errors after school.  Some teachers go above and beyond the call of duty in this regard.

I think it was Steven Covey who had an important maxim- “Seek first to understand”.  Parents, principals, superintendents should seek first to understand the composition of students and other factors that might influence student learning. I hesitate to even discuss the word ” intelligence ” but it could very well be that there are other factors involved in learning- memory, problem solving, general information, achievement motivation, intelligence, persistence, consistency, parental involvement as well as many others.

Can all of these concerns be addressed in one column? Probably not. Can you share your concerns? Certainly.  I guess you can even try to bash me if you feel the need. But I just may respond with some critical crucial questions of my own. But that may be for another day, and another column.



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