More than a year ago, a high school teacher wrote me about the problems she was having teaching writing to high school students. I’ve been haunted ever since by what she said.
It was clear to me that the teacher was someone who cared that her students wrote well. And she sincerely wanted to know how to teach students to do that. Before she became a teacher, the woman had earned her living by writing. At the time she contacted me, she had sufficient seniority and credibility in her high school to be tapped to teach honors courses. Here’s some of what she said:
My own writing skills served me well in the mid 80s and early 90s, but I’m willing to admit that after almost 20 years in the classroom, I can’t honestly say that most of my students markedly improved their writing.
I envision teaching writing as a process, having a continuum of skills (from remedial to advanced abilities) and being able to take any given student forward from where they are, but obviously, I don’t know how to go about it.
Does that bother you?
If the owner of the garage where you have your car serviced had a mechanic who said, “I can’t honestly say that most of the cars I’ve worked on in the last 20 years ran any better after I serviced them,” would you continue to use that garage?
If your physician said, “I can’t honestly say that this treatment has improved the health of any of my patients who used it in last 20 years,” would you continue to go to that doctor?
Part of me says the service provider—mechanic, doctor, teacher—bears a personal responsibility for doing his/her job well, for making the car run better, the patient healthier, the student write better.
Part of me says that when the individual worker fails to accomplish the job that worker was hired to do, the organization should not allow the individual to continue failing.
We need better teacher training programs, no doubt about that. But when the programs fail to train teachers for the realities of the classroom, public schools can’t just criticize the teacher training programs. They have to identify the teachers who want to teach well and give them on-the-job training so they can do that.
To let teachers fail for decades at taxpayer expense is just plain wrong.
Wrong for taxpayers.
Wrong for teachers.
Wrong for students.