Great Teachers Create Great Students

I was recently asked the following question:

“If 80% of our nation’s public secondary schools are failing, and of those failing schools only about 10% of the parents are committed to improving the situation, then aside from public boarding schools, what other strategies are left if those schools really want to make immediate improvements? In short, how do educators at failing schools get so many non-participating parents to help their children succeed?”

Here was my answer:

When a person seeks to create social change, their expectation must be that the process will be “generational”…  Social views and social problems were not established overnight, nor will their solutions be implemented overnight.  Parents didn’t just recently “stop participating” in their child’s education…  This is a trend that has been increasing for the past number of generations (proportional to the divorce rate, and the trend of dual-income households).  Thus, the current stance of parents not being involved in their children’s education spawns from their parents” (and their parents’ parents) growing lack of involvement, generationally.

That said, a public school teacher cannot realistically expect to change the world (society) overnight.  Or even in one generation.  The teacher’s focus should not even be on changing the school district or even the school they teach in immediately…  Instead, I believe that a teacher should be focused on changing their classroom immediately, one student at a time.  Not one parent at a time, one student at a time!  Focus on the students!  We don’t have the resources to make all parents great.  We can, however, make great students!  In fact, that is the job function of  a teacher:  To Create Great Students!  Great teachers are not great because they were so lucky as to have only had the best students in their classes…  Great Teachers Create Great Students!

As much as I’d like for all parents to be involved and positive role models, it isn’t a realistic expectation.  For many students, their parents are absent or negative role models along with their older siblings, at which point their teacher might be their only hope…  I’ve heard teachers say “It’s not by job to raise / parent your child.”  However, I’ve never heard a great teacher say that.  Students of Great Teachers often say that they see their teacher as a “role model” and a “parental figure”.  This is because Great Teachers go beyond the course of study;  They teach Ethics, Morals, Perspective, and Philosophy in addition to Math, English, and History.

You never hear:  “Wow, you really know your stuff!”  —  “Thanks.  I’m a great student!”
Instead, you hear:  “Wow, you really know your stuff!”  —  “Yeah…  I had a really great teacher.”

It only takes one amazing, inspiring teacher / class to change a students entire life.  Teachers often say that if you can reach “just one” student in your career then it is all worth it.  The fact is, great teachers don’t ever reach just one, they reach many, each year.  And they don’t just reach the students, they reach the other teachers and the administrators too!  And it’s through this consistency, that the students whom a great teacher has reached, they will grow up with a different attitude and expectation and become “more involved” parents…  It’s a cycle.  And at this point, Great Teachers are the only ones who can break this cycle.

Right now is an exciting time to be involved in public school education as many reforms are currently taking place.  Here in Florida, we have already abolished “Last In, First Out” hiring and firing practices and Teacher Tenure (for all new hires), and we are in the process of implementing Performance-Based Pay (which still has a lot of kinks to work out, but it’s heading in the right direction).  Because of these changes, the quality of teachers in the classroom will increase (hopefully, along with their pay).  I’m am hopefully optimistic about the future of education, despite the fact that it’s currently a “turd sandwich” in many ways.  But, regardless of the current state of public school education, I am completely stoked about my personal classroom because I KNOW that I have an impact on the student’s lives every single day…  To the extent that they tell me so.

In short, it’s because of the lack of parental involvement that we (society) so desperately need Great Teachers in the classroom.  With parent’s not fulfilling their roles in their children’s lives, it’s up to teachers to fill in the gap.  And if teachers won’t step up, then these children are left to be raised by the streets and the federal prison system.  Access to great education (Great Teachers) is the great equalizer.

Two closing remarks:

1.  Just because you can’t bring Jesus to the WHOLE world doesn’t mean you can’t bring Jesus to SOMEONE’s world.
2.  True change doesn’t start at the top…  It starts at the grassroots level.