Thursday, January 26, 2006


We are nearing the end of the first full week of classes that I've been teaching this semester. It looks like I've got a really good group in all four of my classes. The physics class I'm teaching is the first class I've taught for science/technical majors -- people for whom this is the first step towards their career goals (as opposed to the students who just need a science credit to graduate). Having a motivated student makes all the difference in the world. Some of the students in my astronomy classes have had the attitude, "I don't want to be here, so it's up to you to make me learn something. You're the teacher, after all." Unfortunately, short of brainwashing and torture, there's not much way to force anyone to do anything. I do my very best to make the course interesting, to show them why this is something they should want to learn, but ultimately, if the student isn't willing to put in the effort, then there is absolutely no way they are going to learn a thing. My physics students are all there because they're interested in the subject. As a result, even though they have roughly the same ability as my astronomy students, they will ultimately learn a lot more.

This speaks to one of the fallacies of the current system of "teacher accountability." The laws that hold teachers accountable for their students' learning are flawed from the outset. There's no way these teachers can force a child to learn. Either they have the support structure in their home and community that makes them want to learn or they don't. I see these schools with signs patting themselves on the back saying, "We are 'highly performing'" (the new top-level school rating), but all that really means is that the parents who make up their community value education and have instilled that into their kids. It really has very little to do with the school or with the teachers. Some parents blame the schools for "not making my kid learn" but seem to forget that the onus is really on the parent, not the school. Until we make that fundamental shift in thinking, no system of accountability has a chance of working. The current system is going to do nothing more than make the teacher shortage worse. Who would willingly volunteer to be abused like that?

Since I teach college, I'm not directly affected by these things, though. I find that when I'm teaching and the kids are responding (and I have a rather off the wall sense of humor in class), it's fun. I feel good about myself. I come home jazzed about how class went. I'm not sure I'd want to ever do it full time, but as a part time job, I have to say that it rocks. What more can you ask for?

1 comment:

Minibull said...

But the problem you run into is that there has to be some metrics to measure teacher performance. You can't base funding on the parenting skill of the area community. I do agree that what currently exists is not very good at capturing true performance, but it's 10 times better than what used to be used.