It’s the students, stupid

“The main problem with our education system today is not what is taught, where it is taught, by whom it is taught or how it is taught,” writes Teresa Talbot in the Deseret News. After 24 years teaching in Utah public schools, she believes, “The main problem with education today is students who refuse to work,”

It is the students in a science class where the teacher finally stopped giving students work to complete at home because very few of them bothered to do it. Instead, she began giving students time in class to complete all assignments. Over a third of her students failed because they refused to work in class.

. . . It is the students in my math classes who, when I showed them how to work a multiple step problem, called out, “I’m not doing that; it’s too much work.” It is the students who “complete” and turn in every assignment and still score less than 30 percent on the test covering that material because they are not the ones who actually did the work they turned in.

No matter how good the teacher, the technology or the curriculum, passive, lazy students won’t learn, Talbot writes. She blames ” a society that no longer values the individual work ethic” or holds students responsible for their learning.

What’s alarming is that she teaches in Utah, the traditional values state.

On Teaching Now, Anthony Rebora asks if “schools and educators bear part of the blame for failing to reach and support disengaged students?”

Teacher suspended for dissing students

The young English teachers’ students were “rude, disengaged, lazy whiners,” she wrote on her blog. But 30-year-old Natalie Munroe wants to keep teaching the unmotivated brats at a suburban Philadelphia high school. She was suspended with pay after students found her blog, which did not identify the school or students but called her “Natalie M.”

“My students are out of control,” Munroe, who has taught 10th, 11th and 12th grades, wrote in one post. . . . ” They curse, discuss drugs, talk back, argue for grades, complain about everything, fancy themselves entitled to whatever they desire, and are just generally annoying.”

And in another post, Munroe — who is more than eight months pregnant — writes: “Kids! They are disobedient, disrespectful oafs. Noisy, crazy, sloppy, lazy LOAFERS.” She also comes up with a colorful list of comments that she felt should be available on student report cards.

“Parents are more trying to be their kids’ friends and less trying to be their parent,” Munroe told AP. “They want everything right now. They want it yesterday.”

A former student, now in college, Jeff Shoolbraid told AP that much of what Munroe said was true and that she had a right to voice her opinion. But she’s not fit to be a teacher, he said in an e-mail.

 “I just thought it was completely inappropriate. As far as motivated high school students, she’s completely correct. High school kids don’t want to do anything. .. It’s a teacher’s job, however, to give students the motivation to learn.”

And what is the student’s job?

The comments were “tongue in cheek” caricatures of students, Munroe told ABC News. Apparently, she made the rookie error of thinking that only her friends would read the blog. Now she’s hired a lawyer to defend her free-speech rights — the school has no online policy for teachers — and demand her job back. I suspect she’ll be accaused of violating the “professionalism” clause in her contract, but I can’t predict how the case will play out.

Many teacher bloggers criticize students’ motivation and work ethic. Some fantasize about what they’d like to say to parents. Few teacher bloggers write only about their frustrations, but I’ve run across some very frustrated people out there.

I’d hate to see teacher bloggers feel constrained to write only happy talk. But it’s wise to assume  your students, their parents, your colleagues and administrators will find your blog eventually.

Update: Natalie Munroe’s new blog is here.

Ed Week’s Teacher has a forum here.

Closed little worlds

American students are depressed, lazy and not learning very much, writes John Tierney on James Fallows’ Atlantic blog.  Tierney cites a raft of recent studies as well as years of experience as a college professor and now as a high school teacher.

I teach at an “elite” (effete?) independent school for girls in the Boston area. . . . Some of the students I teach work really hard.

. . . But, my sense is that most of the students at this school spend enormous amounts of time watching television, checking out Facebook, and otherwise engaging in totally unproductive activity. They certainly don’t read anything! In fact, I would say that the number one problem in contemporary American education is that students do not read enough. Their reading comprehension is horrible. Their vocabularies are impoverished. They cannot talk about anything outside their own closed little worlds.

In a follow-up, Tierney quotes an e-mail from a “beloved and prominent professor at a small liberal-arts college in New England,” who writes:

You know, I have a special place in my heart for our [Asian] students, who exhibit few of the troublesome traits you lament. The American students are nice kids, and I like them, but I don’t respect them. I guess that’s the thing.

There are intellectually curious, well-read and hard-working students out there, Tierney concedes. But he doesn’t think they’re the norm.