At-Risk Students by Bill Page
Dramatic, compelling, sobering accounts of the frustration,discomfiture, and defensive ploys of students at risk, through the eyes and from the heart of a teacher who views failure from the students' perspective. Their notorious misbehavior, ranging from incompetence and disrespect to clowning, apathy, and defiance is a cover up for embarrassment and failure. Through vignettes and essays, the author places the reader firmly in the stuedents' moccasins and presents a reality check for teachers coping with disruptive, disobedient kids.
School Learning Occurs in School
Kids have learned, can learn, do learn, and will learn their all lives. But the learning that schools value, test and report on occurs or fails to occur to each student, with
each teacher in each classroom.
While kids learn continuously throughout life in many ways and from many
sources, the leaming for which schools are responsible and accountable
occurs i n school. Furthermoret, that learning occurs or fails to occur for each
student with each teacher in each classroom and is the direct result of the
continuous, moment-to-moment day-by-day interaction between teachers
Teachers may assign interactive work student to student, or
between a student and computers, workbooks,videos ,and work at home.
But it is the planned experiences, a ssigned and supervised by teachers
that constitute school learning. Purportedly measured by the T-CAP,
TAKS, FCAI, CASE, WASL, and other "alphabet soup" tests mandated
by politicians in the "No Child Left Behind (or untested) Act," school
learning is presumably the only product of the education system that
matters in the school authorities'quest for accountability.
Teachers Do the Work of Education
If the function of school is learning, and school learning occurs in school
classrooms through interaction with teachers then teachers are t he heart and
soul of student leaming-they do the real work of education. To the kids.
teachers are school; to parents and society, better teaching is the answer
to quality education. The purpose of school is student leaming. Students
learn through continuous interaction with teachers Any school employee
who doesn't interact with students is unnecessary unless s/he causes better
interaction to occur in the classrooms.
To do their job, teachers need bus drivers to transport kids to school
cafeteria staff to prepare and serve midday nutrition, custodial staff to
provide clean,s afef acilities,and administrators(may be not nearly as many as the school board seems to think) to administer the available educational resources The classified school personnel's contribution to the schooling process is obvious because it is observable and sensible. Not so obvious is what principals and district administrators contribute to increase student achievement especially for at-risk students. Problem leamers continue to
plague teachers until they drop out and begin to plague society.
A Role Change for Administrators
Underthe dictates of the federal No child Left Behind Act,state governments
national testing companies, college academicians, textbook profiteers,
budget priorities,politicians,local bureaucracies", bottom-line"business
interests, lay boards of education, high-priced school district directors,
private tutoring firms, and intimidated principals, education priorities
have changed. Schools,teachers and students must submit to "exit poll"
type tests at the end of each year. The results of a few hours of testing will
now measure, rank, compare, publicize and label more than 1200 hours
of school experiences-a schooly ear of student-teacher interaction results,
measured by a few hours of fill-in-the-bubble-testing. All of this chanses
the principals' roles significantly.
In the "good old days" of frequent new programs and innovations
by the numbers, with each year bringing a new reform plan, teachers could
hide away in their rooms, close the door, tape paper over the window of the
door, do "their thing," bide their time and be reasonably sure that before
long, "this too shall pass." The foolproof, high-stakes "gotcha" tests now
render these once safe,reliable avoidance practices useless. Newspapers
report student scores and ranking. Schools are rated and labeled.
Now principals are held accountable for the overall test scores and
for student improvement. They are expected to reorder their prioritres,
putting instructional leadership as job number one, while functioning as
the school administrator. For years principals were trained to administer
schools and to function as school managers. In the late 1980s their new
role as instructional leaders began gaining favor and was included, to some
extent, in principal training. lt is only recently that the journals and colleges
have shown any real interest in the new role.
Four Serious New Problems
Of the many problems with which teachers and principals currently deal, time to teach is the greatest. Having been usurped by four culprits reorder their priorities in ways that reduce their effectiveness. While many teachers would want to include paperwork, meetings, hostile attitudes of parents, student disrespect, lack of student self-discipline, direct instruction programs, bureaucratic intrusion, and lack of parental involvement, the root of the most serious classroom problems are these:
1. "The test" is the determiner of curriculum, teaching procedures, priorities, time, and effort. Whether the tests are valid, whether they succeed or fail to measure what they purport to measure, whether what they measure is of any real value, whether their numbers are statistically useful to anyone, whether they are biased, whether the assessment information is worth billions of dollars, and particularly, whether small percentage increases and decreases in achievement in a given school are meaningful or significant and will hold up until the next year makes no difference—tests are the primary influence in education today.
Z Closing the huge, persistent achievement gap—whether the gap is between ethnicities, races, cultures, economic classes, at-risk students, or gender groups—is another major problem. Whatever the basis of the gap. students feel the devastating effects of being on the bottom. The "raisingthe-bar," "high-stakes testing" requirements, while continuing the winner-loser and pass-fail classifications, along with the grading and ranking of students, classes and schools ever hover over students and teachers alike.
3. The No Child Left Behind Act—The students obviously left behind—dropouts, grade repeaters, force-outs, psychological dropouts, the disengaged. GED-seekers, summer schoolers, (including those who fail there too), English-as-a-second-language kids, "special ed" students, cheating teachers and "stay-at-home-on-test-day" kids—leave a lot of questions about whats meant by "left behind." For the thousands upon thousands of children Junked for the year (50,000 retained in the third grade in the state of Florida done) and those denied graduation and diplomas, their lives are forever changed. Perhaps the law should be called the No Child Left Unharmed Act!
Teacher-proof lesson nonsense, political intrusion, anxiety, constant pressure, and direct instruction materials are what teachers now get
instead of the resources, respect, time, encouragement, and autonomy they need. Furthermore, what is not being taught, mountains of paperwork from oversized class loads, infringement from the bureaucrats and from other higher-ups who don't trust teachers to do their jobs have replaced the student-teacher relationships that form the basis of the teaching-learning process.
Fortunately, teachers get their meaningful feedback from individual students who learn, improve, change, and become more confident. Teachers see kids develop and know they have made a difference, regardless of the evaluation methods chosen by the school system or the state. But they themselves are treated like children.
Student Achievement Equals Teacher Effectiveness
Kids' achievement will increase when teachers improve their teaching effectiveness. But how are teachers to improve? Why will teachers be more effective this school year than they were last year? What is it that would or could make any difference? What do staff development directors offer other than intimidation by assessment, coercion to improve student achievement, and increased teacher accountability? We cannot expect improved student achievement without a corresponding increase in teacher effectiveness. And we cannot expect increased teacher effectiveness without lots of help and many changes. The "No Child Left Behind" movement must begin with classroom teachers, not because teachers are the problem, but because teachers are the solution.
There are at least two keys to improving teacher effectiveness: teacher empowerment and principal-led staff development.
- Teacher empowerment—through increased participation, time. reflection, collaboration, and responsibility for improving their own knowledge, skills, and competence.
- Principal-ledstaffdevelopment— by leading, organizing, mentoring, coaching, and directing improvement efforts in individual teachers and within individual classrooms.
Because of teachers' increased accountability for student achievement, they must be empowered to change their teaching procedures and their classroom techniques and activities. That is the only part within the teacher's control. Schools can change only when and to the extent that teachers change.
Unfortunately, teacher control and influence over the most basic aspects of education have not changed in the past century. Teachers have no control over the external conditions: which room, students, curriculum, textbooks, resource allocations, prior learning conditions, school policies and procedures, colleagues, schedules, time allocation, parental involvement, special services, budget factors, district rules, school personnel, and so forth.
Although teachers make instructional decisions and constant choices within the teacher-student interaction, increasingly teachers are more restricted by mandatory programs, core curriculum, assessment policies, direct teaching programs, and the intrusion of additional lessons in character training, conflict resolution, AIDS prevention, and the dozens of political inclusions in the curriculum. All this notwithstanding, teachers do make choices and non-choices that make the difference in what, how and whether students improve their achievement. They can only hope the "fillip-the-bubble," "multiple-guess" tests will reflect some of the increased achievement to which they alone know they have contributed.
More than anyone else, teachers understand the needs and priorities Df the classroom. They know their students better than anyone else in the school system possibly could. Having spent 180 days with their students, they know their achievement level and their progress. All that teachers need at that point is an effective way of reporting that achievement on a report card and school record.
There is a difference between knowing about a kid, as the system might determine, and knowing the kid as teachers do. Teachers need autonomy in their classrooms to make the decisions about student learning—not because they can do it best, but because they are the only ones who can do it at all!
Principal-Led Staff Development
The recent movement toward embedded, continuous, ongoing responsibility for staff development really makes even more sense. The principal knows his or her teachers best, is with them on a daily basis, knows most about what is happening, cares about every kid and every family, knows what is important in the school and community, and is responsible for observing, evaluating, supporting and improving teacher performance.
Further, school learning requires that the principal provide helpful policies. The principal is responsible for the climate, morale, teamwork, and culture of the school. The principal makes a significant contribution, for better or worse, in the school's success.
School Learning Occurs in School
School learning occurs in school. It requires that teachers help each kid, ineach classroom learn the prescribed curriculum for each subject. It further requires that the principal provide helpful policies, ongoing, embedded staff development, and that other staff members on the periphery do their job.
Whether others who are interested in teacher effectiveness and student achievement, know which students have learned, what they have learned and at what level of proficiency, is their problem. How the achievement is measured, evaluated, and reported by those other than the kid's teacher, is expensive, time-consuming, confusing, and problematic. Their attempt at "intimidation by testing" in an effort to make it the teacher's problem and to find a meaningful, statistical average is unfortunate, unproductive, and unfair. Its total effect is equivalent to holding a loaded gun to each teacher's head and saying, "Do better or else." Pray tell, what good will that do?
Printed with permission from Educational Dynamics Publishing Company.
At-Risk Students Feeling Their Pain, Understanding Their Defensive Ploys by Bill Page
| Bill Page, a farm boy who graduated from a one-room school, attended a rural high school, flunked out of college, and was drafted into the Korean War. Later, with maturity, military experience and the G.I. Bill, he received his teaching credentials. He became a specialist, teaching middle-school "troublemakers." Bill went on to originate and direct a successful USOE research program for six years. Then for 26 years he taught teachers across the nation to teach the lowest achieving students with his proven premise, "Failure is the choice and fault of schools--not students.