I’m really struggling with the older students right now, 5th grade in particular. As I’ve mentioned before, their behavior and attitude are beginning to go south, and keeping myself focused in persevering in the right direction is an additional challenge.
I teach in two buildings, and the longer the year goes on the wider the achievement and attitude gaps become between the two buildings. Lessons that are a complete success in my full -time building are either incomprehensible to my “part- time building” students, or their “I couldn’t care less” attitude is so pervasive that it doesn’t matter to them whether they understand or not. Lately I leave that building feeling unsuccessful and incompetent.
Why is this?
I think there are several factors. I’ve already alluded to one of them in calling one of my schools my “part -time” building. Because it’s a small building it shares specialists with the larger schools. The kids get the left over days from everyone’s schedule. Although we try to build in consistency, the fact is that on a weekly basis as well as from year to year, I only teach half of the students in the building. My style of teaching is strongly related to, and to a degree, dependent upon the relationships that I am able to build with my students. Without the consistency of having all of them every year, those relationships are considerably weaker than in my “full -time” building. They see me in that school once a week. To them, I am a visitor. The sense of community is not as strong, nor is the sense of safety in being able to choose to sing and interact in my music classroom. This is happens in the school that services students who can least afford second string learning accommodations.
Now, I know I’m treading on controversial territory, but the other reason for bad attitude, apathy and low achievement has nothing to do with me. It has to do with where each student comes from, the value that is placed upon education in their family, the kinds of experiences their parents had with school, the level of parental education and, therefore, the economic standard of living in their household. Sad to say, money and the amount of time that parents must spend trying to make ends meet make a difference in a child’s attitude towards school, and ultimately, in their ability to be successful. Much of the inability to tolerate rigor, and the bad attitude that I see, come, in my opinion, from lack of support at home, whether it’s because parents are absent from the home in order to work, or because they really don’t give a hoot about their child’s education. Some don’t, and all students in a community pay the price for that.
My “part -time” school is, at almost every grade level, 2 weeks behind my “full -time” school. The difference in the students, not in what or how I am teaching, is stunning. With all of the accountability that is being placed upon teachers, it seems to me that there needs to be a way to hold parents accountable for their contribution to a child’s education. I say this, not because I welcome more government intrusion into families and private lives, but because the reality is that teachers are taking the whole blame for something that isn’t entirely their fault. If we really want to see improvement in public education, then everyone who is responsible for a child’s education must do their part. It’s very easy to “hold teachers accountable”, but it won’t do any good at all if the rest of society refuses to accept their own responsibility.