Cynthia Allen-Pearson, Guest Columnist
Fortunately or unfortunately, I teach at an educational institution that is labelled a high-performance school. Usually, when someone asks me where I teach, I have come to expect the gasps with the accompanying, "oh, rich school", and "bright students". Conversely, I have heard, even at the university level, that teachers do not teach at these schools.
For many who spout their opinion in public, their views are often simplistic, erroneous and, unfortunately, pervasive. Recently, I have been frustrated once again by two comments made about teachers in these schools, which seem to reflect misconceptions of the general public. The two comments that generated anger in me were that good teachers in these schools should leave and go to weaker schools to improve their situation, since students in high-performing schools do not need them. The other was that teachers in such schools were merely babysitters.
First, the creative power of my anger has finally driven me to write about people's simplistic view about teaching and teachers in such schools. The two comments which caused my ire came from an acquaintance of mine who sat with me at a dinner table and told me that I should leave my school to try to help out a struggling school.
This comment was made in response to another acquaintance who was lamenting that the new school term in a high school had started with confusion, given that there were serious timetabling issues and teachers could not find classrooms to have their classes. Implicit in my acquaintance's statement was that I was redundant in a high-performing school.
However, I countered that while where I teach was not perfect, there were basic organisational structures that were in place to begin the school term smoothly and that I refused to add to my discomfort by leaving where I worked to go to institutions which lacked basic efficiencies.
EFFECTIVE MANAGEMENT KEY
The public needs to know that good teachers in high-performing schools value the high priority administrators place in effective school management. One obvious way to demonstrate this at the new term is to avoid clashes on timetables and ensure classroom allocation so that both teachers and students can achieve their goals.
I wonder if the public believes that teachers do not care about such matters. I suspect that some people think that teachers should live a life of passive servitude without high expectations from their profession. What about the rest of the workforce? Are you willing to leave your well-run company to go to a poorly managed one, just to help out?
There is a simplistic view in my acquaintance's argument that if good teachers flood these weaker schools, the administrative issues will be resolved and the school will improve. I consider myself a good teacher of my subject matter, but I am a dud at administration. How would my presence help a struggling school if at the basic level I cannot even find a classroom to conduct my lesson?
It is clear to me that my acquaintance's idea of school improvement is hinged only on the teacher variable and has ignored other important factors of which the general public too remains ignorant. If the public believes that good teachers moving to poorly run schools creates improvement, they know absolutely nothing about the complex issues involved in developing effective schools.
But for the unlearned, let me give you an inkling of the ethos of some of these high-achieving schools. First, parents have high expectations of all stakeholders involved since they expect their children to excel in such schools. Next, the administration has high expectations for teachers, putting systems in place for teacher accountability, good record keeping, strong work ethics, professionalism and professional development.
Teachers have high expectations from students, and students for themselves, in a school community which encourages an atmosphere of hard work and high academic achievement. All involved have a strong commitment to school wide goals and to their institutional philosophy of teaching and learning.
'BABYSITTING' IS HARD WORK
My acquaintance's second comment enraged me even more, for she went on to say, "Oh, and at your school the students are bright, so you don't have to teach." Embedded in this statement were several misconceptions about students and the teachers' role in high-performing schools that I had been resisting for years. Nothing is further from the truth!
While it is true that these schools get students with higher scores from the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT), these students still need to be taught, and by good teachers. There is a prevailing misconception in many quarters that teachers babysit at these schools, while students construct meanings of their world like little geniuses.
I have been a 'babysitter' in one of these schools for a long time, and over the years I have become an excellent one. My babysitting experience has always left me tired after planning lessons, marking papers, and setting tests. My babysitting job causes me so much mental and physical exhaustion for executing some of the best practices to ensure that my students receive meaningful experiences in the classroom.
I am accused of being married to my babysitting job, since I spend so much time in professional development, being a reflective practitioner always seeking to find ways to improve my craft. I repeat that this babysitting job is hard work. I recommend that the general public should try it for a month.
The other misconception that people have about students in these schools is that candidates with their high GSAT scores are mature, independent learners who are self-directed and are in possession of all the high cognitive skills and competencies necessary to excel at the secondary level.
It seems to me that many people believe that these beginning GSAT students, from the outset, can readily make meta-cognitive connections in acquiring knowledge; have high critical-thinking skills; can evaluate, synthesise, analyse and glean all manner of implicit meanings from texts without the help or guidance of a good teacher. They believe that the students can do it all on their own, while teachers simply watch them earn distinctions in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate exams and the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations.
ALL ON THEIR OWN?
I wonder if the general public would agree that though Usain Bolt has excellent athletic abilities, that he was self-taught and was not in need of a coach - and a good one at that. Maybe Glen Mills is simply his sitter, watching as Bolt grows from strength to strength on his own efforts and winning much gold in the Olympics.
Is this why, then, that many parents with these gifted children have never taken to the streets, protesting with placards demanding justice for their children against teachers who merely babysit at these schools? Being denied valuable instruction in these schools has not spurred parents to such wrath because their children are expected to take full responsibility for their own learning?
I am nonplussed by the silence of these parents, who have failed to make a public outcry against such lazy teachers who have foisted upon their children a less-than-adequate educational experience in these schools.
I know that the misconceptions about high-performing schools will prevail because the uninformed public tends to be most vociferous and uncritical on issues that they have never taken the time to think about. Inherent in the two unfortunate comments made to me were such contradictions and error that if one really stops to think, one would realise that the notion that teachers do no work in these schools borders on the ludicrous.
If we believe that children or learners learn what they live, and live what they learn in the classroom, it is virtually impossible for babysitters to consistently produce high-performing students by modelling lazy attitudes to work. Further, it is logical to think that academic institutions with babysitters at the helm are sure to breed a nation of low achievers. What say you?
Cynthia Allen-Pearson is an educator. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.