Well, If You Don’t Teach It, How Will They Know? [Beware the Ides of March]

Jose Vilson Education, Jose

Julius Caesar Statue in Rome, Italy

What does it mean when a teacher says, “They don’t know ..?”

That’s often my quandary when I listen to the conversations about our students in classrooms all across the city (and in some cases, the nation). Topics like fractions, percentages, decimal places, and other seemingly rudimentary topics evade many of our students, and many teachers prefer to concentrate on these deficiencies with a flippant “They don’t know.” At some point, after the teacher carefully reflects upon their practices, looks at their data, and fully understands their students’ capabilities, they can reasonably say “They don’t know.”

And that’s where the real work begins.

In a national survey conducted by MetLife (“Survey of the American Teacher), close to 90% of all teachers and supervisors believe that high expectations has a huge impact on student achievement (around 1500 teachers and supervisors were surveyed). Yet, only 36% of teachers and 51% of principals believe that all of their students have the ability to succeed academically. Naturally, this results in many students thinking their teachers don’t care much about them. Just over half of students agree that all of the teachers in their school want them to succeed. And frankly, this is unacceptable.

While the survey doesn’t have much qualitative data regarding this dynamic, I’d venture to guess that their years of experience and expertise via education are as disparate as the hopes and expectations of the students for themselves. To wit, I believe most teachers are actually qualified to teach the students they do, pedagogically and content-wise. I also believe that the definition of “bad teacher” varies from person to person, and still proves invalid since, as recently as November, districts rated only 1% of teachers unsatisfactory.

It also forces me to deduce that we have a long way to go before we see students as people who can achieve and achieve well. Let’s start out with something simple: flipping the question.

“Fair, so they don’t know fractions, and they don’t know decimals, and they don’t know everything else you’re saying they don’t know, even if that’s a huge generalization. Then what do they know?”

When asked, it’s usually followed by an awkward silence. Where once people were so opinionated about what their students might not know, they have an awkward time praising them and taking a real inventory. Abundance vs. deficit model. Then, the next question I’d ask is:

“Alright, so if they don’t know these things, how will we integrate them into what we have to teach them based on the standards?”

There’s the conversation starter. You know?

Mr. Vilson, whose getting better at having the gritty conversations …