Some school reformers erroneously cite that teachers are the most important factor in a child’s education. The research really states that teachers are the most important IN-school related factor causing a child’s education.
That difference is significant because other external factors come into play about a child’s success academically and socially. There are things that have a critical influence on children’s behavior and attitude toward school and education, and teachers do not control them.
Placing all the responsibility for a child’s achievement on the backs of teachers is not accurate. That responsibility should be shared between teachers, parents, and students. In addition, public policy affects the economic and social conditions of families. Poverty matters when it comes to education.
Let’s get realistic about what teachers can and cannot control, and design accountability strategies around things they control directly. We also must realize that the impact of a quality teacher may not be felt right away and that some students demonstrate academic achievement immediately in the short-term. Some take longer and require the seeds the teacher planted to grow over time.
Certainly, the quality of teachers’ education and preparation is important. But they also control their:
- Commitment, enthusiasm, and passion for their profession
- Desire to continue to grow and remain up-to-date on relevant research
- Adherence to professional principles and ethics
- Individualized and differentiation of instruction to meet students’ needs
- Classroom climate and discipline
- Interpersonal relationships with students, parents, and others
- Instructional rigor and techniques
- Use of time
Teachers, however, do not hold sway over some very important factors. These are not excuses, but realities over which teachers do not directly control or in some cases even leverage. They include:
- Family functionality
- Education of the parents
- Children’s’ health
- Children’s’ attitude toward school
- Peer group pressure
- Children’s attendance at school
- Children’s living conditions
- Drug abuse
Teachers do not work in isolation. The overall tenor of the school regarding safety, climate, culture, class size, curriculum, and operation is not in the direct purview of teachers. The culture of a school is important and sets the stage and tone for children’s attitude and behavior.
Teachers should be held professionally accountable for their performance. But holding them accountable, when external conditions are beyond their ability to control, doesn’t make sense.
We also lose sight of the fact that children grow and develop at different rates and the impact of the teacher may not be observable immediately. For students to get a quality education, parents, teachers and students have obligations.
Professional accountability is complex. Assessing a teacher’s individual performance on a single metric is irresponsible. An education is more than tests. The standard of care for children is important and is the responsibility of the teacher. That is something we can hold teachers accountable for, even though children may come from difficult social, economic and family environments.