Sunday, March 3, 2013

Is Someone Not Being Held Accountable?

It's been quite a while since I contributed to my blog, but due to the climate of American society for the past couple of years, I have certainly had lots of thoughts and ideas to put into words.  As a result, I now have a long list of topics and thoughts that should provide fodder.  Family obligations and other goals have hindered more frequent updating, but procrastination may also be a factor.

I base the topic solely on my observations over 30 years of working in the field of education, teaching and collaborating directly with students and teachers.  Social networks are abuzz with opinions about what is wrong with education and the latest programs and gimmicks to make the changes needed.  

For, after all, society's woes can be contributed to poor teaching and dumbed down curriculum that does not  prepare our students to be productive in a future society.  At least, that's the impression I get these days from what I hear and read.  Is it true?  I don't think so.  Let's take a look at what I have observed and what I believe to be the major influences on producing citizens who will contribute positively to society.

When I began my career in education, it was the late 1970's.  Students came from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, had a variety of personal experiences that contributed to various degrees of background knowledge, and they sometimes had learning disabilities or special needs to be addressed.  Wait!  That describes the student of today!  

OK, let's look at teachers.  In general, they are prepared, trained in understanding the curriculum and standards, as well as technology tools.  Yet, today's teachers are the most criticized, overwhelmed, under appreciated, and suffer from the lowest morale that I have seen in 30 years.  How can this be explained?

Who is accountable for this low performance in students that we read about?  Why do universities and employers complain of unprepared prospective students and employees?  Teachers, administrators, and school boards, are all held accountable.  Students are also held accountable, as much as can be.

Taking all of the above into account, I believe from my observations over the past 30 years that behaviors and attitude is what is different.  Those are difficult to measure, other than through survey devices.  However, the results of having poor attitudes and behaviors result in things that are measurable, such a grades, tests, projects, and other evaluated and tangible statistics such as rising prison populations. 

There does seem to be something missing from many students these days.  It's called pride.  The kind of pride that makes someone want to do their best because it gives you a good feeling when you do.  Without pride in daily work, it's difficult to care about challenging yourself to do better, or caring about successful school work.  Students often do well at sports or music and take pride in athletic or musical abilities, and it can transfer over to school work.  But, many times, it doesn't. Many students do not participate in extracurricular activities. Teachers can mentor students and try to instill pride in them, but should it be up to them to do this? 

So, again, who is missing from this picture?  "Parent."  No, not "parent" as a noun.  "Parent" as a verb.   I am speaking in general terms here.  There are fortunate children who have wonderful parents who set limits, provide structure, assign chores, instill ethics, and make sure students act responsibly.  There are too many factors to go into here, but many of these changes are due to changes in society.  For instance, more students do not go home until late in the day now, or there are more distractions that are more fun than doing homework.  But, there have always been, and always will be, distractions and excuses.  And now, we have a generation growing up under the guidance of those who had little guidance themselves.  I have heard teachers say that they have had parents tell them not to contact them because when their kids are at school, they belong to the teacher and they should deal with them.  They don't want to be bothered.  It's hard enough to parent, but if you didn't have someone model parenting for you, then you need to learn those tools.

Now, those parents I described above are exasperated parents that need some help.  Whether they want it or not.  Because they also should be held accountable.  Parents should provide experiences in the home that prepare students for being successful in the classroom.  Schools have no control over this and only have students for a few hours a day.  What is to be done about this?  Ah, that is the question!  Here are some thoughts, though some need funding and I am not providing many thoughts for that.

1.  Provide parenting classes for parents of students who are under performing or exhibiting behavior problems.  Begin at an early age.  Provide transportation to attend these classes.  During these classes, parents should set a goal and provide a follow up at the next class.  Share success stories in these groups. Have parents sit in small groups to discuss the problems.  Chance are they will be helpful to each other.   Give these parents a reason to be proud.  

2.  Parents on public assistance who do not attend a predetermined percentage of these classes should have a reduction in the amount of assistance they receive.  Employers should be notified when employees do not attend, as well.  Pay should be reduced and that can help fund the transportation to the classes.  If we do not do this, parents will continue to not show up at conferences, will still refuse to take phone calls, and many do go to great lengths to avoid school communication.  I know this sounds severe, but even pet owners with barking dogs disturbing neighbors are held accountable.  Shouldn't we, as parents, be held accountable?  Children will have a more lasting affect on society than dogs.

3.  These classes should provide specific suggestions on how to make a child successful.  Included should be an emphasis on work ethics, personal ethics, goal setting, responsibilities, and reflection.  Provide a chore for the child to do and praise them for doing a good job and then teach them to reflect on why it was good or what could be done differently.  For instance, if the chore is to wash dishes, were they clean?  If not, then what was wrong?  Was the water cold?  Was there soapy water?  Why do they feel greasy?  Did the chore take too long?  How can this be changed for the next dish washing to make it successful?  Reflection is an important life long skill.

4.  Parents should know the importance of expectations and goal setting.  Help your child set a goal, like doing homework or reading a book.  Be realistic but let them know your expectations.  Let them experience success and they will know the feeling of pride in a job well done.  

5.  This is always a touchy one, but provide a variety of positive ways that parents can discipline children.  Children must understand that there are consequences for undesirable actions and parents must follow through.  Life isn't "fair" and children need to learn this too.

I remember.  Parenting is the hardest job I ever had.  Sometimes I just didn't feel like being a parent, especially after a difficult day at work.  But the greatest gift I gave my children was being a parent who was consistent in expectations and discipline.  They are good citizens and contribute positively to society.

If students came to school ready to learn, took pride in their work, knew what was expected of them, set goals for themselves, and exercised personal and work ethic, then their teachers could concentrate on teaching and then our students would be more productive adults.  

Let's all do our part in keeping our country strong and our society healthy.

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