Today, I'm going to talk about a subject that I'm quite familiar with. I'm going to talk about me.
Several years ago at another school, an administrator explained to me that I ought not take my job personally. This administrator advised me that a student's difficulties in class aren't my problem. Those difficulties belong to the student, and as such do not reflect on my skills as a teacher or my dedication to the profession.
But each year when I was evaluated (often by someone who had never set foot in my classroom while I was working with students), the government-issued evaluation form claimed to measure the effectiveness of my classroom management skills. If students misbehaved, it was some combination of me:
1. Being too permissive with discipline.
2. Being too strict with discipline.
3. Being too arbitrary with discipline.
If my classroom management skills were fine, but students still misbehaved and/or got poor grades, then that too was my fault. When that annual evaluation rolled around, the same government-issued form explained that a lack of student achievement was due to some combination of me:
1. Failing to plan engaging lessons.
2. Failing to take into account student interests.
3. Failing to take into account student differences.
So, when that administrator told me that a student's difficulties are not my fault, that statement was not quite accurate. When it came time to be evaluated, the criteria used made it clear that at least some of the responsibility was mine. Imagine a student who does not behave properly or learn well in my class. Can I honestly say that I bear no responsibility for that student's lack of progress?
Which, of course, is not to say that I bear the primary responsibility. I remind my students that they cannot escape two great truths about education:
1. The primary responsibility for behaving like a scholar is yours.
2. The primary responsibility for behaving like a gentleman is yours.
No matter how well I plan a lesson or how clearly I communicate behavioral expectations, a student who refuses his primary responsibilities is going to run into problems, and that's his fault. When necessary, the student must be held to account for his failures, preferably in a way that demonstrates the benefits of cooperation.
But that does not let me off the hook. At other schools, I've worked under administrations that I felt were a bit too permissive about student conduct and/or achievement. That also does not let me off the hook. No matter what, I must do what I can to encourage my students to succeed both morally and academically (and it ought to go without saying that the former is more important than the latter). Thus, I must do these things:
1. I must set the example morally and academically. I cannot ask a student to be either a gentleman or a scholar if I am not both.
2. My example must be visible in both word and deed, especially in deed.
3. I must pray for my students, especially the ones who most vex me.
4. When praying for vexatious students, I must pray more for me to have the grace I need than I pray for the student to amend his behavior.
That last point cannot be over-emphasized. Returning the word to its Latin roots, "educate" means "to lead out of". If I'm going to be the best educator I can be, then I have to be out front of my students, leading them to where they need to go while pointing out the paths they ought to avoid. If a student gets lost, I've got to do my best to find him, to take him by the hand if necessary to get him back on the narrow way.
The Knights of the Mightier Pen gather in the hallowed halls of the Regis School in Houston, Texas, to share their tales and poems.