educator, writer, speaker, devoted family man, amateur philosopher, chess enthusiast, basketball junkie, connoisseur of fine hip hop, and purveyor of wit and wisdom
I read an article entitled “It’s the Curriculum, Stupid: There’s Something Wrong With It” written by Dave F. Brown in the June 2006 issue of Kappan. (An abstract of the article can be read HERE.) The article made some cogent points about K-8 curriculum and for the most part, it was fine. However, in the article there was the following quote stated by a high school senior named Amy:
“My classroom education has fallen short of giving me the most vital skills needed to survive in the world today. It has failed to teach me how to communicate with others; in short, it has failed to teach me any type of social skills.”
I am fascinated by statements like this because there is a prevailing notion that teachers must teach skills like conflict resolution, decision-making, effective communication, etc, etc. YES, we want our students to make informed decisions. YES, we want our students to manage their time, organize themselves, be good social citizens, etc. YES, we value those things, but we should not teach them in the same way that we teach other disciplines because these things are for the parents to teach. (No wonder young students mistakenly call their teachers “mommy”. I was even called “mom” once.)
Now don’t get me wrong. I think teachers can provide assignments that require these skills like decision-making and activities that foster interpersonal communication. However, to hold teachers responsible for this takes a lot of the responsibility away from parents.
The word teach is a verb that carries with it very clear definitions in my head. I am a professional teacher, and to teach professionally means to perform such tasks as developing student learning outcomes, creating a lesson plan, creating assessment tools that determine the degree to which students met the desired outcomes, etc, etc, etc. In this respect, as a math teacher, I refused to teach a student to respect others. I refused to teach students how to develop their communication skills. I refuse to teach a student the general conventions of social interaction. I WILL, however, create an environment in which these things are welcomed. I will encourage those things at every opportunity. But I continue to get the impression that parents (and even the students themselves) keep looking to the teacher to actually teach students these lessons.
When did it become my job to be a parent of an adolescent stranger?
I believe, for example, that every young person should learn the benefits of paying taxes. Do I teach students to pay taxes in my math class? Do I teach students to drive, cook, and to do their own laundry? What life skills lessons am I required to teach? The problem is that no one has properly drawn the boundary lines. What exactly do parents hope (or expect) K-12 teachers to teach? Be specific. That’s the trouble. If I were told to teach—professionally teach—communication skills, then of course I would do it. My way…with detailed lesson plans in which students learn the theory concepts, skills, and application of said communication skills. (This is the way I have been trained in professionally recognized teacher prep programs. This is the way I taught students to graph quadratic equations.) I strongly believe that if administrators were asked directly “Do you want me to teach my high school geometry class lessons on social interactions, time management, and personal responsibility?” they would say “Of course not.”
These are the hidden expectations, the hidden responsibilities, the unspoken duties of the K-12 teacher that every single parent will deny outright, but every single parent will hold them accountable for.
Too often, the formal institution of the school is treated informally. I decided to make it more formal. When I taught middle school and high school, I chose what I’m responsible for in my classroom. I consciously chose which things I would teach and which things I would not (within the state standards, of course).
As heartfelt as they seem, there are several things wrong with the above comment made by Amy the high school senior:
As you can probably tell, I’m frustrated. My frustration is not in the teaching of these things because I know how to teach them. I taught classes on public speaking, as well as the general personal strategies of time management, organization, and decision-making. I know how to teach these skills. I’m frustrated that the list of things formerly taught in the home will be hoisted on the shoulders of my colleagues in the trenches of the K-12 system.