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Topic: Teacher Accountability - Reader Reactions
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 13,020
Registered: 12/3/04
Teacher Accountability - Reader Reactions
Posted: Mar 17, 1999 1:35 PM
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[Note: These are reactions of some readers to the posting on "Rethinking
Teacher
Accountability" by Mr. Paul Zoch. There is no question that this article by
Mr. Zoch touched some sensitive nerves among teachers. Similarly for the
two postings on the reality of teachers.]

******************************************************

Jerry,

I always appreciate your messages, but two that arrived today (we were on
break last week), were especially poignant. Paul Zoch's article on
accountability was especially significant. It's probably because I've
felt, too, that kids haven't been putting enough effort into their own
learning for a long time. I wish there was a way to put him on the circuit
to visit schools throughout the country and talk about this!

The article on the "Reality of Classroom Teachers" that you wrote was
great, too! Are we ever going to change the school structure?

Thanks.

*************************

Dear Jerry,

Some of Paul's message makes sense--certainly we have to get beyond games and
start emphasizing that student's must concentrate in order to learn. I'm
currently enrolled in two grad school programs. One at _______ where I'll
get my PhD, but the other is at _________ where I'm taking classes on
how to be an "administrator".

The Doctoral program pretty much expects us to learn the material. But at
____,
it is frightening how many "students" expect the professor to razzle-dazzle
them.

Nevertheless, I have to laugh when Paul makes reference to the fact that the
athlete is more responsible then the coach. I seriously doubt Paul has ever
competed at the highest levels of any particular sport. (He probably also
loses big time when betting on football bowl games and the NCAA basketball
tournament.) In reality BOTH a good coach and a good athlete are necessary.

In high school I had two great coaches. My track coach's teams were
undefeated in dual meets and won the conference championship ten straight
years. My cross country coach's teams were undefeated in dual meets and won
conference championships for about fifteen straight years and went to the
state meet for about ten straight years. You don't win that many meets
without being a great coach who knows how to bring the most out of athletes.

The athletes and their attitudes do matter. My cross country coach won the
state meet once. Out of the seven team members, six have Masters degrees or
beyond. The one without the master's degree was National Honor Society
president. Assuming I finish mine, three of us will have doctorates.

Great teaching and great methods do matter.

Meanwhile, I went to college. One of my teammates was top American in the
1984 and 1988 Olympic Marathon. Two others qualified for the NCAA National
Championships in the steeplechase. Another was fourth in the world in the
Triathlon. More talent than I've ever seen in my life. Not once in my five
years did Cornell finish in the top half of the Ivy League cross country
championships. The coach was a moron.

Every guy who went on to individual success did it on their own. For the
three years before I showed up, Cactus Jack happened to have had an assistant
who was dynamite at recruiting talent. The assistant went on to great success
at Auburn.

The point is: Yes, student attitude matters. Yes, students must be held
responsible for their own success. But the reality is: Good teaching and
good methods matter too. A good teacher brings the most out of students. My
good high school coaches always stressed the importance of attitude.

Yes the best students can overcome poor teaching, but even they could have
been better and more well-rounded.

**************************
jerry

i just finished reading your message on teacher accountability
and i totally agree with it! how wonderful for someone to actually address
the fact that the teacher cannot control every student's mind and actions.
i must say most parents will not be thrilled to read this because many have
conveniently given up the responsibility to the public school and say it's
your problem ... deal with it. thank you for sending this to me. may i
pass it on to my colleagues here at _______ elementary?

**************************

Jerry,

I just had to respond to this article, "Rethinking Teacher Accountability". I
printed it and am making copies for several of my coworkers! What a mouth
full!!! All that was printed in that article has been said between my
teaching partner and I throughout this school year (though not a fraction as
eloquently!!). Never before have I had such a frustrating year with students
so unmotivated, disrespectful and empathetic! That article was right on the
money - ultimately, WHO'S responsibility is it to LEARN the material?? The
teachers??? Sometimes I feel so busy trying to make learning "fun" just so
that I can hold their attention for ten minutes, that I lose the content I
originally intended to teach! What a shame. I agree!!! Lets rethink this
notion of holding teachers solely accountable for learning!

Bravo to the author of this article!!!!

***************************

Jerry,

Great idea to link we mathematics educators together. Congratulations
on another great conference. Thank you so much for continuing to work
to provide such a nice day for us. The luncheon speaker this year was
inspiring--his medicine/drug example was especially effective and
reminded me of other great things to do quickly in class with an
overhead graphing calculator.

I will also look forward to receiving more articles like Paul
Zoch's. He has eloquently stated what many of us know to be true. I
have a sign up in my classroom this year--"The harder you work, the
smarter you get."

I would love to have access to e-mail addresses of Math Team/WYSE
Academic Challenge Team coaches. __________ County now (past three
years) requires us to raise our own money for lunches and rooms (at
state contests) for our mathletes and academic team members. We sell
candy and run concessions for the approximately $2000 maximum it costs
per year. Isn't that incredible? I was informed that I need to poll
area schools that field academic teams, determine how they support their
teams, and present that information to our superintendent. Now that I
think of how to do that, I may check the ______ web page and ask someone
there, also.

Best wishes,

**************************

Dear Prof. Becker

Many thanks for sending me informative articles. I was highly impressed
by an article by Mr. Paul A. Zoch on "Rethinking Teacher
Accountability". I could see many of my opinions about learning
reflected in his writing. Like him I too believe that learning is a
painful process. All of us who have achieved something in academic
circles have gone through pains. Please congratulate Mr. Zoch on my
behalf for making the point so bluntly in the environment which holds
teachers responsible for all the ill acts of students. If you can let me
know his e-mail address I would like to write to him.

With regards,

***************************

Mr. Becker:

The "Time for Teachers" article you forwarded a few days back has resonated
with many of our staff here at __________High School, _______.
In fact, many are wanting to pass it along to other colleagues via e-mail
and print.

My concern is about any copyright restrictions. You mentioned that
permission was received from the author to send it along. Do you know if
that permission extends to further dissemination by others? Should we
contact the author ourselves?

I appreciate any advice you can pass along.

****************************

"BAH!! HUMBUG!!" Says Mr. Zoch.

I may be a beginner in education, but I have been a student and an adult
for a good number of years. In several years of part-time studies toward a
degree in Mathematics Education at the University of ___________, I
NEVER heard the opinion that students should be relieved of the
responsibility of working for their own education. To the contrary, I
received the consistent message that it is the teacher's responsibility to
FACILITATE learning. The teacher has the responsibility of knowing the
various learning modalities in students, of knowing and communicating the
subject material thoroughly, using the most effective techniques known, and
of course, cheering the students on.

I'm glad Mr. Zoch used the sports analogy. In professional sports, who gets
booed off the field and later fired when the team suffers a losing streak?
It's the coach, isn't it? Because the coach is expected to organize, train,
and motivate the players to achieve victory on the field. Isn't the teacher
supposed to be a "learning coach?"

Older gentlemen like me enjoy telling stories. Allow me:
In the late seventies, I was a printing pressman in the printing division
of a large, well known, multinational corporation. Twice in an eight year
period, I was written up for producing substandard work. Twice, I had an
excellent excuse: a perfectly understandable handicap in each case that
severely hindered my ability to produce quality work. In fact, once there
was a broken part on the machine! I firmly believed that the management was
in error for writing me up. Some years passed before I understood the
logic: as pressmen, we were in charge of machines valued at between several
thousand and several million dollars, a crew of one to five, and for every
eight hour shift, we were responsible for thousands of dollars worth of
paper. Substandard printing is pure garbage - it cannot be sold at the
factory outlet store.

The message was simple: the responsibility of our position left no room for
excuses. If there was any way for us to prevent a negative outcome, it was
our responsibility to prevent it. That means that if the guy who made the
plates made a mistake and we failed to catch it, guess what? We just spent
eight hours and several thousand dollars producing dumpster fodder! Could
we have caught it if we had been more thorough? Yes! Then guess what? It
was OUR RESPONSIBILITY TO BE MORE THOROUGH!!!

If students do not learn and there EXISTS A WAY for teachers to improve
their teaching, then teachers should be held accountable for not
implementing said improvements. Are students less valuable than paper and
ink?

In my brief time in the classroom, I have seen students that reminded me of
the robot, "Number Five", in a movie a number of years ago: "NEED INPUT!!
NEED INPUT!!" They do not get it because the teachers (1) Do not prepare,
(2) Do not have a thorough knowledge of the material, (3) Are not vigilant
in preventing copying and encouraging individual exploration, (4) Do not
use all the tools at their disposal to facilitate learning, and most
importantly, (5) Do not maintain a structured, respectful, and orderly
environment wherein students are focussed on the topic. Instead, they throw
up their hands at the end of the day and say, "Those students drive me
nuts!" and "I can't teach them if they don't want to learn!"

Of course, the students play the greatest role in their own education. Tell
THEM that, not the government or the administrators! After all, we may
still be able to reach the students!

Mr. Zoch's message could be a big hit in a public debate that seems to
focus more on rhetoric and emotion than on logic and reason. Unfortunately,
messages like this serve only to frustrate educators that sincerely want to
improve student outcomes and are willing to do all in their power to
achieve that goal.

I suggest that Mr. Zoch model the behavior he expects from his students by
accepting responsibility for his results instead of finding excuses.

*Alleged Former Printer, Future Teacher

****************************

Your message about testing in Texas was very appropriate for the ___ list.
If you had not mentioned Texas, I would have thought you were talking about
___. Student accountability is an issue here too. I am glad that you wrote the
response you wrote, otherwise I was going to have to do it.

I, too, appreciate those insights into Texas education dynamics. I
haven't had admistrators that threatened us about our test results. They
did explain the implications of the law (as it was designed back in the
early 90's). _____ testing component (_____, recently scrapped for
___), did have in place a provision that a school that declines over
several cycles (total of 4-6 years) could mean removal of faculty. It got
people's attention.

****************************

Jerry (re-printed) Mr. Zoch's ideas on the state of education.

I read it all. He has some good points. He is responding to the latest
demands to raise
teacher standards and the effort to hold students accountable based on
standardized test
scores. He (and _____, recently) pointed out that we (teachers) just don't
have
control of the students' past experiences, their current emotional state,
and the
motivation to learn provided by parents/society when they walk into our
classrooms. He
points out students have to take responsiblity for their actions, in this
case, their
education. (All very important for me to remember as I look at some my own
students'
dismal work on fractions recently!)

BUT
I feel Mr. Z. might be swinging the old responsiblity pendulum a little too
far towards
the students. He seems to place little responsibility on the teacher and
holds little
stock in what the "artistry of teaching" might bring to the educational
table. For
example, he sights Japanese teachers main directive is to "cover the
curriculum". I
read too much TIMSS data not to know that Japanese teachers carefully craft
math
lessons, share them with one another for refinement-before they ever share
them with
students.

Mr. Z. says he has been teaching 11 years. If present, I would ask him
these questions:

1) Why did you get into teaching in the first place? Did you think "you
might make a
difference"? The Paycheck? What?

2) Do you teach exactly the same way the same way you did the first year?
If the answer
is no (I hope it is no), do you think you teach any better? Do you think
you have more
of an "impact" than you did?

3) Did you ever have a teacher who inspired you? Would this (have) be(en)
a bad thing
if one did?

4) Did you ever have a teacher notice a gift you had, help spark an interest in
something you still enjoy?

5) Have you ever considered that the way you view life and interact with
students
probably teaches something as (or maybe much more) important as the subject
matter you
present them? I guarantee, it is those interactions that they will remember
long after
they forget any particular curricular lesson you consider as important. (It
can be a
scary thought!)

A "BEYOND VEAL" APPEAL

Near the end of the movie "While You Were Sleeping", the main character,
Lucy, describes one of the reasons she is leaving her job as a token taker
at an "El"
stop along the Chicago Transportation System.

"I go to work.. sit and take tokens... and feel like a piece of veal."

Mr. Z., I know many people have jobs that are boring and repetitive
(veal-like in
substance). But, they don't have to be. For sure, teaching does not have
to be. I
believe by choosing to:

1) Take care of myself
2) Care about my students
3) Try to get better at what I do

Then, more of my students will learn. (Call me a radical! (:-) )

CLOSING ODE

So, I am with you, Mr. Z.: The best me I can be
Still will not guarantee, all students will achiee(ve);
But let this not an excuse be
To keep from growing professionalee!

Food for thought,

********************************

I think it is unfair to assume from what the author wrote that he does not
also believe that teachers can inspire the uninspired. But his point was
that the accountability system, in its failure to put enough responsibility
for their learning on students, is defrauding students.

Teachers, of course, must share in the responsibility for students'
learning. As you pointed out, that's what brought us to teaching in the
first place. We like to think that we can make a difference. But so must
students. So must parents, and administrators, and society, in general.

But in the grand scheme of the Texas Accountability System, the brunt of
the blame is put on teachers and administrators. I chose the word blame
carefully, by the way. In faculty meetings, there will be these veiled
threats that if your students do not pass the TAAS test at a satisfactory
rate, you could lose your job and be replaced. Which is ironic, because
there is a severe shortage of mathematics teachers in Texas. This makes
teachers resentful. We work like dogs in the classroom, because we care
about our students' learning, not because of job security. So they walk
out of the faculty meeting grumbling, " whenever they
think they want my job, they can have it", then walk back to their
classrooms trying to get their thoughts back on their students so they can
get their attitudes right again.

So that's a little background on the dynamics of what's happening that
motivated the author. I don't know him by the way. But I know lots of
teachers that are feeling the same way. Sorry for airing our dirty Texas
laundry on the ________ list. :-)

******************************

Is there any avenue for engaging in discussion with Mr. Zoch? (If that lies
outside of your purposes, I certainly understand and respect that, because
you do us all a great service by sharing the information you share.)

My short response to Mr. Zoch is that solutions are rarely simple and that
solutions to today's educational problems lie with both teachers and
students. Mr. Zoch's description of what should be done is even more
simplistic a solution than that which he attributes to "Educationists." It
also ignores the depth of thinking that has gone into describing the
improvements necessary in education, at least those described by
mathematics educators supporting "reform." No mathematics educator that I
know thinks that students should be babied and not expected to struggle. In
fact, the notion of appropriately struggling and being challenged permeates
the language of the NCTM standards, the National Board for Professional
Teaching Standards, and other important documents from states and
professional organizations.

Certainly teachers are not to blame for students being unmotivated or
causing discipline problems. Nevertheless, many teachers have discovered
that what they teach and how they teach it can contribute to solutions in
both motivation and discipline. Neither teachers nor students operate in a
vacuum; their actions and learning interact with each other from moment to
moment. What I know for certain is that if a teacher simply "covers
material outlined in a course of study," only one thing happens for sure:
the teacher knows the material, at least for the moment. Without students
being engaged in the material, they are not likely to learn it in a way
that lasts beyond the next test. Good teachers have known this for decades.

*******************************

Well said, Mr. Zoch. I agree with much of what you say. BUT, like so
many who write about education, you are guilty of black and white
thinking, that is, it is either the teachers or the students who are
responsible. My 37 years in education convince me that it is the
responsibility of many, including the teacher and student. I agree
society should do more to inculcate in students their responsibility, but
students are not alone.

One of the most critical factors is the RELATIONSHIP between the student
and teacher, neither can assume they are alone. Conceivably one could
improve their
free-throw skill without a coach, but I doubt one could figure out the
Pythagorean Theorem without a little help from others. Thus, we need each
other.

Also, while there are many abstractions that seem agreeable to all, such
as "carefully and conscientiously cover the material outlined in the
course of study", precisely how teachers do this varies greatly--that is
where the key is. There are many curriculums that "cover the material,"
but precisely how they do does make a difference. After all, the TIMSS report
asserts the problem with the American curriculum is we "cover" far too
much. I think education is best served when we focus on the relationships
among all involved. If we assert it is mostly the students'
responsibility, don't we risk letting teachers shirk responsibility in the
same way we do when we don't emphasize students' role?

*************************************************
*************************************************

*
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA
Fax: (618)453-4244
Phone: (618)453-4241 (office)
E-mail: jbecker@siu.edu





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