Better Students? Not My Job!

Dr Kildare 002
Image by Tinker*Tailor via Flickr

Can You Name Five Famous Teachers? Four? Three?

I bet you’d have no trouble naming five famous lawyers.

Go ahead. Try.

Easy, wasn’t it?

Naming five famous doctors is a breeze, too.

I bet you can even name five famous living economists.


Famous teachers are hard to come by.

Is it because teaching is thought of as women’s work? Perhaps.

Is it because teachers don’t toot their own horns? That, too.

The problem with not tooting our horns is it makes us easy to ignore, easy to disregard.

How many teachers are at the table when education policy is being formulated and debated?

How is it that all the decisions about teaching and learning are being made by people who are not teachers?

I recently asked my teacher groups on Twitter to tell me how they’ve made a difference in the lives of children and their families.

I was looking for examples of the sorts of things that teachers do that don’t show up on those infernal standardized tests.

I got a few of those:

But mostly teachers told me the 140-character-or-fewer stories of how teachers made a difference in their lives.

There are few famous teachers but we all have teachers who affected us deeply, not necessarily academically. They got to us in ways that helped us grow, helped us become better people.

Much of the talk about education these days is about how America is falling behind, how students in Kansas can’t compete with kids from kids from Korea, Kenya or Katmandu.

Teachers are blamed and exhorted to create better students.

Sorry, that’s not my job.

Better students come from homes with parents who around to read to and talk with their children instead of having to work three jobs to feed and clothe them.

Better students come from better communities that are able to support libraries and where the development of children is everyone’s concern and a kid may have only one mother and one father but is blessed with a dozen or more ‘parents.’

If it is not my job or any teacher’s job to create better students, what is it that we do?

In all honesty, as much as I love history, it is not important to me that every student knows how the enmity the American revolutionaries felt towards King George III affects our lives today (do you know?).

What’s important to me is that every student knows how to tell fact from fiction, not confuse opinion with authority.

It is important to me that all my students can wade through the pervasive media environment and know how to form and communicate a reasoned opinion and cast an informed vote.

No, we don’t want to create better students.

We want to create better adults.

Better adults become better parents. Better adults create better, more caring and supportive communities.

All those critics who want America to have better students, you’re setting your sights far too low.

We all know, low expectations cause poor performance.

Need proof?

Just look at our politicians.

We don’t expect much from them.

And when it comes to education policy, not much is exactly what we get.

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8 Responses to Better Students? Not My Job!

  1. Devon, I just recently wrote a variation on this theme here: One of the challenges we face is being willing to believe that we can create better adults.

    I had a conversation today with someone who was discouraged to hear a teacher say, in public, and in front of students that some kids are too broken to fix, and that we shouldn’t waste energy on them. I also heard from a colleague in another district that an administrator there said, in public that only the quality teachers should only teach honors classes, and special ed students didn’t deserve to have the best teachers.

    I can’t bring myself to give up on any child, no matter how “broken” he may be, no matter how hopeless it may seem. I may not be able to help them all, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try.

    • Deven Black says:

      One of the first things I tell my students is that once I am their teacher I never give up, never let go. I am not the best teacher in the world but I may be the most tenacious one.

      Perhaps it is some teachers and administrators who are too broken to fix.

  2. I think your post has been truly thought provoking. Honestly, when I read your title- I did not have trouble coming up with 5 teachers who have made huge differences in the world- but I am a global thinker and the names that popped into mind were: (and not for any religious reasons but just for reasons of treating one another with kindness) Jesus, Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, John Dewey, Nelson Mandela, Mary McLeod Bethune…but our government focuses TOO much on the negative and never on the positive. We never hear about the positive things that teachers do, and the truth is that millions of teachers everyday go to work and give of themselves for their students. We obviously don’t do it for the FABULOUS pay!! So thank you for focusing on the positive- I wish President Obama and Arne Duncan would get your message too… We need more people like you to ask teachers to “toot their horns!!!”

  3. Harold Shaw says:

    Deven – You are right on the mark with your post and your comment. We can never give up, you never know when all that hard work that the student is doing, is going to suddenly kick in, we just have to be ready with our hand out to help them over as many of the hurdles in front of them as we can.

    I know that we are on the same page and that sometimes I am not quick in conversations or don’t communicate what I mean to say as well as I should, but I know I enjoy the conversations that we have on Twitter and agree that we need to “make” better adults.


  4. […] And Deven Black asks: can you name five famous teachers? Filed under: Newsroom  Print Share Posted at 8:09 pm […]

  5. educator says:

    Teachers are famous only to their students. I doubt that teaching is a job that can give you fame. 😛

  6. […] districts are seeing the effects of budget cuts.  Deven Black, author of a blog called,  ”Education On the Plate,” recently published a post in which he wrote the following: “The problem with not […]

  7. Thanks this made for interesting reading. I dig your wordpress theme!

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