Duty Bound to Sacrifice?

Another theme that runs through my mind all the time is who, exactly, is responsible for student success?  It’s a theme that Mike and I have been wrestling with a bit in the comment section of my last post—and it’s a theme that Jenn Orr has been wrestling with over at In Practice.

Jenn writes:

I’m wondering about the role and limitation of the school. What should a school be doing? Where does it end?

Obviously, our responsibility is the education of the students. It
is easy to simply draw a line that divides educational duties apart
from everything else. I believe our students deserve better from us.

I’m unwilling to abdicate responsibility simply because something is not clearly related to my educational duty. My students deserve every opportunity to be successful and sometimes that requires more from me or from my school.

But a school can’t be everything to everyone. At some point we can’t or shouldn’t be involved. Where is that line?

I struggle to find the “Responsibility Line” too, and openly wonder whether or not my willingness to go above and beyond “the call of duty” actually hurts our profession more than it helps.  Here’s the comment that I left on Jenn’s post:

I sometimes wonder if the extra effort that I put in at my school
and for my students beyond my contract and long into the evening for no additional compensation is simply being taken for granted by my administrators, by law makers, by the community.

People have just grown to expect that I’ll do whatever it takes to make my kids successful.

And while I’m passionate about that work—and committed to helping kids regardless of the personal costs—I worry that I’m making it easy for “the powers at be” to avoid giving me a raise!

Why pay me more for work that I’m already doing for free?

What’s more, I worry that I raise the bar to ridiculous levels for other teachers. You see, I haven’t been lucky enough to be a parent yet, so I’ve got more extra time on my hands than the average teacher.

I invest that time into reading and writing about my profession and developing cutting edge instructional experiences for my kids. I also spend more on my classroom than most teachers that I know. If we need a new digital tool, I’ll buy it. If we need new books for the bookshelf, I’ll buy them.

And while I earn plenty of celebration for that work, other teachers are criticized because they’re not more like me. “If Mr. Ferriter can do all those wonderful things with his kids, why can’t you?” they’ll unfairly ask.

So the question rumbling through my mind is do Uber-Teachers who go far beyond the normal expectations for educators do more harm or more good for our profession?

If we drew a clear line in the sand and refused to cross it, would
we be able to get others to value the work that we’ve always done for free?

Sure—it would run contrary to all that we are as teachers to turn
away from meaningful work that would be left undone without us…..but if we just keep doing this work without demanding fair compensation, will our salaries ever rise to levels comparable to other professionals?

You’ve got me thinking today…

So what do you think?  Should we draw a line in the educational sand that we refuse to cross, clearly delineating the kinds of tasks that we’re responsible for and the kinds of tasks that schools, districts and communities must find someone else to complete?

Do we hurt our profession by refusing to take a strong stand and willingly accepting responsibility for a range of tasks that were once filled by parents and preachers?

Or are we duty-bound to make personal and professional sacrifices for our students, regardless of how much time or money that takes?  Could we even knowingly walk away from the work that would be left incomplete if it weren’t for our commitment to the children that we serve?

Is it even possible to define a set of expectations for teachers considering how quickly the world changes?  Wouldn’t a set of tasks created today be outdated tomorrow?


3 thoughts on “Duty Bound to Sacrifice?

  1. Mike

    Let’s wrestle a bit more, shall we? I remain frustrated by those who cannot, for whatever reason(s), acknowledge that students (and their parents) bear any responsibility for learning, yet cannot explain how anyone can learn if they have no responsibility or make no effort to learn.
    It is one thing to assert as a very general principle that teachers are responsible for student learning (well, yeah, but…), but quite another to contemplate the certain consequences–to students and teachers–of the logical fallout of that principle. If teachers are responsible, solely responsible, they can and must be held accountable (as in being disciplined and fired) for any student who fails, regardless of that student’s lack of attendance, effort, etc. And of course, if students have no responsibility, why should they be expected to learn anything at all? If however, when we say that teachers are responsible for student learning we also imply that students bear some significant responsibility for their own educations, why not say that? Why do so many apparently fear to state the obvious?
    So. I’ll succinctly state my philosophy and await response. Particularly, I’ll await direct responses to my central point: Each individual is ultimately responsible for their own education and must put forth consistent, daily effort to learn.
    (1) Each individual, at any age, is responsible for their own education, Those who recognize this and work hard at it will learn faster and more completely than those who don’t. There are no shortcuts to building new neural connections in the individual brain. Effort and concentration are required.
    (2) Parents have a significant role in ensuring that their children learn. When children are young they learn differently and parents must be more involved, even reinforcing teaching themselves, on a daily basis, reading to their kids and demonstrating the importance of education. By the time a child is in high school, their view of the value of learning and their willingness to engage in the hard work of learning will often be firmly established (or not). Much of this will be as a result of their parent’s work with them when they were younger. One of the primary responsibilities of parenthood is accepting that kids often do not know what is good for them, or knowing it, will not do it. Parents must compel their children to do what is good for them. That is their responsibility; Hillary Clinton and the village won’t be around to pick up their slack. That is one of their primary reasons for being.
    (3) Teachers must be expert in methods of teaching and in figuring out how children learn best and most completely. This is why a bachelor’s and specific training in such methods and practices is a minimum requirement. Teachers guide students in not only doing the daily practice they need to learn (the brain learns through repetition), but in practicing correctly so that they can learn most effectively. Ultimately, teachers are responsible for providing students the best opportunity to learn that their knowledge, skill, and the resources made available to them by their community, through their school district, can manage. Teachers can do no more than this; being human has its limitations, and all teachers must be hired from the human race. However, a good teacher can make the hard work of learning seem less difficult, even fun.
    The system can break down in a variety of ways. A teacher who is not providing a professional level of opportunity will limit the learning of their students. A student who is not trying, regardless of their level of intelligence, will learn little even if they are in the classroom of one of the finest teachers in the world. Parents who allow their child to get away with doing nothing…well, it’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?
    Finally, consider this: Apply this philosophy to school athletics and none would think argue with it. We expect that coaches will provide an excellent level of opportunity and lavish upon them whatever they need, including, commonly, very light academic class loads, extra salary, special dispensation for clothing, working conditions and hours and other perks. We also demand nothing less than maximum plus daily effort out of student athletes. If not, they don’t make the varsity team, or any time. No excuses. And we demand full parental support as well. We do the same thing–to a generally lesser level of financial and material support–for student musicians.
    If this philosophy of learning is universally accepted regarding athletics and music, why does it break down when English or math is involved?

  2. atxteacher

    You are so right! When I was childless, I worked and spent without limit for my students. Like you, I bought whatever I needed because that was the only option. I worked late into the evening and on weekends. When out and about, I’d see something that fit with what we were discussing in class and go home to work it into the next day’s lesson.
    Now I have 12 month-old. I don’t have the energy, time, or finances to devote to my students like I have in the past. I have a family for whom I am primarily responsible. No I feel guilty. I feel guilty when I don’t do all that I used to do for my students.
    If you can get the milk for free, why buy a cow? The “system” (who is that? probably society at large) doesn’t have a reason to pay us more or support the changes for which we politely ask. I’ve often thought we need to take a stand. But then I think about the kids whose lives I was permanently impacting; how can you not spend the time or the money – or at least the guilt energy?

  3. K. Borden

    You have chosen a profession that values equal pay over competition and reward for merit. Time in service, acquisition of degrees and acquisition of certifications determine what you will earn. Two teachers with the same time of service and same certifications will earn the same compensation regardless of their performance.
    You teach in a distric with almost ten thousand teachers and how many are rewarded for exceptional service? How many are removed for poor performance? Are all ten thousand equally deserving because of time served?
    The debates locally and at the state level are over how much of a percentage increase in pay all teachers will receive, not over how to reward the best.

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