Wednesday, July 13, 2011

It's All About the Teachers, Says Norm Rice

(I wrote this on the Seattle Times web site in the Comments section after Norm Rice's guest column was published on August 24th, 2010.  His column can be found here:

"Let's not ask for anything more from the kids."

These words at the end of Mr. Rice's column are the perfect demonstration of why people who don't work in education need to be prevented from having so much influence, and why I wrote about the Blind Side last week.

Ask nothing more of the kids?

Is he serious?

So, we shouldn't ask them to leave their cell phones at home? To study with the TV, internet, Ipod, and the latest gadget of the week turned off? To stop vandalizing the school with graffiti that costs thousands of dollars every year? To respect their teachers and do what they say? Things we teachers have no control over.

We shouldn't ask any more of the kids? I can barely believe my ears.

Education begins and ends with the student. The teacher is a facilitator. A student who does not want or is ill-prepared to learn will not learn. You can't make a kid go to after-school tutoring. You can't make a kid be interested in practicing 20 math problems a night.

The student must want to do the work.

Intrinsic motivation, we call it.

Extrinsic motivation only lasts so long. That's why giving rewards for good grades isn't a good idea. It's like feeding the pigeons in the park. They only show up when you're gonna give them something.

But education is not about the teacher "giving" anything to the student. The student is responsible for learning.
Now, there are significant differences in this area between elementary and high school.

But you notice how the education demagogues always say somewhere that "the research shows...."

How come we never see any of this "research?" What research shows that teachers have more influence than attendance? That's absolutely ludicrous! If he ain't there, he ain't gonna learn nothin'.

What research?

And besides, this is another major gripe I have with the educational commentators.

They assume, quite blindly, that everything can be studied quantitatively. To say that individual factors such as teacher quality can be isolated and ranked, one by one, in the sea of multitudinal variables affecting a student's education, is pretty far-fetched.

I don't believe you can easily measure a thing like that. To isolate teachers and determine that this single variable, against all the others going on in a student's life, is the one making the biggest difference.
Show us the research that says this. Prove to us that its methods were sound.

I'll believe it when I see it. Further, I don't believe most of these people have actually read any of this supposed "research," if it even exists and was well done.

Even my Research and Methods professor in grad school said that most educational research was bunk. And that's his field!

Let's ask more of our students this year. Let's ask them to show up ready to learn and to value their free education. Let's ask them to not lose their backpacks every month, and to keep their work organized and up to date.

I'm planning to ask a LOT of my students this year. That is, when they aren't pulled out of my class to take yet another mandatory standardized test....

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