"What's Wrong with Education" doesn't apply to your classroom. Your job is to "live."
Another school year is almost upon us, so it seems appropriate to set goals, think about challenges, and examine how we achieve fulfillment as an education professional. For the past two weeks, I have been engaged with several colleagues in a discussion about why students fail in the education system: Is it that the parents are apathetic, is it the distractions of today's culture/environment, is it a school system and teaching community that quickly label students and their parents into groups and seal their fate for success or failure? The discussion easily devolves into assigning blame according to the bias of those entering the discussion. That troubles me greatly regardless of the perspective and experiences behind the bias.
Working at the high school level in a challenging urban setting, there is nothing as fulfilling as seeing a student utilize what talents they have and rise above any of the barriers that challenge them. When you can be a guiding part of that individual life, nothing feels better. On the flip side, losing a student with significant potential and seeing them fail right in front of you is one of the most depressing, hopeless feelings you can have. When they are lost, you lose a piece of yourself as well - you might eventually question why you're an educator and think about leaving the profession. You hope that enough of your students are in that first "achievers" group so that the tide is rising and most are going to succeed. Your worst days as an educator are when you spend your days "driving the bus" so that the entire group doesn't go over the cliff, but they keep falling off, one by one.
As a human being who is either an engaged parent or individual educator, it doesn't take much thought to realize that it's you and the individual students, their parents and the specific local environment that's going to drive a classroom. It's intellectually dishonest to reduce the challenge of that classroom to a blanket statement about "students," "parents," or "the administration." Despite your best efforts and intentions, you cannot and will not be able to save every student. And on the other hand, the student who seems beyond being saved may yet be able to be saved although the process may be painful. You have to work with your students, parents and administration to get the best from all of them.
Pardon a military analogy, but as classroom educators we are the ones down in the trenches, and it is how we carry the fight as individuals that determines the course of the war on a much broader level. That really is the simplest solution to our country's current educational woes. The broader discussion about why students are succeeding or failing is important for us all to consider (and it is vital that we engage in that dialog so that our voices are heard and no one opinion rules disproportionately). But in good years and bad, my mission has always been to "drive the bus" and get my students to go as far as they can. Set a standard of high excellence as your collective goal and challenge each and every one of your students. And this is important: challenge them without regard for their past efforts, history or predisposition. We can never accurately tell who is going to succeed and who is going to fail - when you start thinking you can is when you shortchange your students and yourself. Some years are painful as I experience personal human tragedy through my students' lives, but there will always be some measure of success and accomplishment as a whole that keeps me going.
So I challenge you to take what you are given with regards to students, parents and administration. See the positive in everything and every one, and set a high standard. Drive the bus to lift as many up with you as possible and don't give up. Remind yourself that they all deserve your attention and don't prejudge any student, parent or administrator.
You cannot expect anything more fulfilling than to "live" your life with such passion.
About the Author
Bill Franklin, the CEO of Internet4Classrooms, is our guest blogger this month. He been on the faculty at The George Washington University, was a career Army Special Operations officer and also works in the Miami-Dade County school system at an urban high school.