A vicious cycle – teachers as parents.

Continually declining reading scores – basically declining academic performance in general across the country, as well as continually growing behavior problems in the countries’ schools, are occurring because teachers are spending less and less time teaching, and more and more time being parents.  And parents are spending less and less time being parents.  Children are spending less and less time being learners, and more and more time doing what they want.

Unless you work in education, you probably don’t know how much on-going training teachers, and support staff such as myself – a school psychologist – continue throughout their careers.  It is never ending.  The reason for this of course is to better prepare teachers to educate our children.  However, it occurred to me that school staff throughout the country are getting more and more educated, or more and more qualified, and test scores continue to decline, while behavior problems continue to rise.  Something doesn’t make sense here!  The problem is that parents and society are expecting the schools to solve more and more of their problems.  And the schools, because they want to educate children, are trying to live up to these expectations.  But this will never work.  Teachers should be there to teach.  They are not there to teach our children how to behave.  After all, what can a teacher really do to a child who doesn’t want to behave?  If a child comes to school not prepared to learn, why is that the teacher’s problem?  Kids come to school sleepy, hungry, and unclean, and teachers are expected to deal with this.  I was at a workshop and the presenter from another school district proudly discussed an intervention they have for such children.  The elementary school she is at has an official “greeter” that greets the students at the door as they come in the morning.  She watches out for students who may appear not prepared to learn, and of course she already has a list of “at-risk” students who she checks regularly.  Part of her responsibilities include smiling at the students, making them feel good, getting them in the mood to learn, getting them focused on good behavior choices, making sure they have their necessary materials, and seeing if their hungry.  What happened to their parents?  I didn’t know that a two-minute greeting in the morning could change a behavior pattern a child has been living and learning for years.  And now it’s the responsibility of a professional in the school to make a child happier in life, or to want to come to school.

Teachers today are getting doctorates in all kinds of things.  There are teachers who have a doctorate in reading, working in the classroom, teaching reading.  And then there are the experts in the universities with doctorates doing all their research in such things as reading.  But then get this – the illiteracy rate is greater than ever!  There are volumes upon volumes of research about everything little thing that goes on in a classroom and school.  There is probably a study about the location of the bathrooms and how this relates to learning.  And there are teachers in the classroom who have advanced degrees or dissertations in probably every one of these possibilities.  What I don’t get is, what are these teachers becoming experts in that wasn’t around thirty or forty years ago? How is learning and education that different?  Furthermore, if learning and education are really that different, then why are they?  The answer is really very simple.  Behavior is the thing that has changed in the schools, and it has contaminated everything else.

Perhaps the following scenario will help you appreciate what we are expecting teachers to do, and how totally unrealistic it actually is.  Pick any team sport that kids play.  Let’s say soccer.  Suppose you are the soccer coach of 10 year-old players, and there are certain requirements that you have to follow.  You have no choice in the selection of the kids on your team, these children have to be on a soccer team, and you cannot kick anybody off the team.  They have the right to play soccer!  So you may have a child who is very tall and clumsy, one who is very small and so he is easily pushed aside in competition, and one who is very obese so he can’t even really play.  You may have a player who doesn’t even like soccer, but his parents make him come.  There may be child who stays up late every night because his father is never around and his mother goes out partying, so he is always very tired.  And of course he could care less about soccer.  You may have a player who uses drugs.  Are you starting to get the picture?  Well let me make it even clearer.  Besides the wide diversity of players you have, there are certain requirements or expectations you, your players, and the team have to meet.  You have to continue taking courses to keep your certification as a soccer coach, and the community evaluates you on how well each player does and how they do as a team.  Then each player’s progress is monitored.  Each player has to keep progressing and getting better at soccer.  There will be individual skill tests that all players must pass, know matter how different they may be in ability and skills.  Naturally some players will excel in these tests and others can barely kick the ball.  Some players may show no progress at all because they don’t try, miss practice too much, or goof around too much.  But they will be compared on the same standard, with rankings from an “A” to an “F.”  If you have too many “F’s” then you’re not a good coach, and those players are not getting better, or learning.   Oh, and individual player’s statistics from games will be recorded and scrutinized, and considered a reflection of your coaching ability.  Finally, your team will be evaluated.  How does your team compare to the other teams?  If your team is toward the bottom then you must not be a good coach.  Suppose this year you happen to have a few particularly disruptive, troublemaking players, who disrupt practices.  You will be evaluated on why you cannot manage your team’s behavior.  Remember, you cannot kick anybody off the team.  And if you send anybody to the bench too often for being disruptive, your ability and not their behavior will be questioned first.

Videos abound for teachers and other school personnel such as myself to “teach” children all type of things besides academics.  There are entire magazines filled with games, books, and videos to improve children’s behavior.  There’s big money for these business to provide ways for teachers to teach the things that parents should be doing.  Let’s don’t forget, these are businesses.  Money is the bottom line.  We like to think that we can have a game, a poster, or a lesson to plan for children’s character, emotional, and social development.

Discipline, respect for adults, a work ethic, knowing when to listen and when to talk, knowing when to play and when to be serious, these are things that parents should have been developing in their children from a young age.  School should just be a place where these qualities and skills are expected and supported.  Of course kids are going to step out of line, horse around, and do things wrong.  But if the groundwork is laid by the parents, then all the teacher should have to do is provide some simple rules, basic structure, and minor consequences, and behavior will not be become a chronic problem for an individual, nor will it be a major factor taking away from the learning time of the class as a whole and society in general.

Final warning!  Parents (and America), we are losing your children.  What are you going to do?