Are Teachers Messing Up Our Children?

A recent article published in The Guardian said it well, “Schooling without learning is just time served.” There is an alarming trend taking place in our schools today. Though our children spend record amounts of time in a classroom, it seems they aren’t any better for it. Over recent years, there have been a number of amendments to teaching styles and curriculum; all of them intended to assist children in better learning the skills required to find good jobs and live an independent life in today’s society. Teachers seek to find each child’s unique “learning style” and to encourage individual gifts. With such a customized approach to education, surely kids must be growing intellectually by leaps and bounds? Yet this is not the case. Quite the opposite.

Today’s children seem to retain little of what they learn. More than this; with school systems refusing to “fail” any child who falls short of meeting established criteria for their age and grade, it instills a false sense in them that they are entitled to things even if they have not earned them. Schools are pumping out “graduates” who lack even the most basic skills. The ability to read, write, and do basic mathematical equations is no longer a given.

There is no other way to say it. Our education system is broken.

Who is to Blame?

In the “no fault” society we currently live in, people seem to be looking for a scapegoat. If their child is not learning, it can’t possible be THEIR fault…or Little Johnny’s. After all, he spends 6 hours a day in a classroom with a professional educator. Surely, he should be well on his way to becoming the next Stephen Hawking?

If the system is broken, and it is, there is definitely someone responsible. But it might not be who you think. In the hierarchy of the education system, teachers actually fall quite low on the totem pole. They are often seriously overtasked, and most of their power has been taken away from them. Teachers have little control over what actually happens in their classroom. They are forced to bend to unrealistic expectations and decisions imposed upon them by people who have the least amount of knowledge about their profession. Tried and true teaching methods are thrown out the window and are replaced by fad, unproven whims.

The truth is teachers are not the problem. They are yet another cog in a faulty system that victimizes more people than it helps.

Recent studies regarding the mental health of teachers have uncovered staggering results. Research conducted by USA Today concluded that over 50 percent of all teachers report that their mental health is in a far less than optimal place. 58 percent of all teachers polled evaluated their current mental health status as “not good.”

An online survey of over 5,000 educators shared that 86 percent of teachers feel they are not properly respected by leading school officials. But perhaps even more upsetting is the fact that 61 percent of all teachers and school support staff report that the work they face on a daily basis is a constant source of stress. With stress and pressure weighing so heavily on today’s educators, it is no wonder that only 18 percent of school employees report getting a proper night’s sleep on a regular basis.

If our teachers are stressed, feeling disrespected, and not getting sufficient and consistent rest, they are not able to function at their best. And let’s face it; children are trying. It takes an inordinate amount of patience just to deal with YOUR child when he’s in a mood. Now imagine trying to deal with 30 Little Johnny’s having simultaneous meltdowns.

All of this begs the following question: if teachers are merely doing the best they can with the cards they have been dealt, who is to blame for the fact that our children aren’t learning?

While the government and high ranking education officials play the largest role in the problem, parents and teachers don’t come out completely unscathed either. Part of the dilemma can be traced back to a relationship that should be a partnership in order for a child to truly thrive. Instead of working collaboratively to ensure each student’s success, teachers and parents sometimes view each other as mortal enemies. Each assumes the other is responsible for certain things and instead of communicating to make certain all areas are being covered, it becomes easier for each to fulfill the role they believe falls to them and blame the other for “gaps” in the student’s social and educational development. Both are at fault.

When teachers and parents determine to work in tandem to enrich each child, it’s a beautiful thing, and it leads to success. If it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a village to properly educate one. Teachers can present the materials and provide in school support, but for learning to truly take place, they need backup from parents at home. Together, parents and teachers can form a powerful alliance that even a government bent on ineffectual change cannot thwart. The key is in working together.

What are the Obstacles to Learning?

The facts are clear. More than ever, schools are graduating students who are ill-equipped to productively make their way in this world. More than ever before, it’s time for an education overhaul to address the problem.

The first step to repairing a broken system is to assess what is standing in the way of progress.  Here is a list of obstacles that are preventing learning in our classrooms today:

Excessive class sizes
While we know the expectation of one on one classroom instruction is not realistic in today’s educational environment, we also realize that extremely large class sizes equate to children falling through the cracks. Kids who need a little bit of help understanding basic principles can often get overlooked in favor of children with a greater need for time and attention. What this ultimately leads to is a far greater percentage of children who lack complete understanding of the fundamental skills required to move forward.

When classroom sizes are too large and teachers lack the help and resources they need, everyone suffers. But it is the children who suffer the most. 

Family problems
Families who experience upheaval as a result of divorce, separation, or even health issues or loss of work struggle to keep their current status from affecting their children. Unfortunately, while parents can successfully hide some of the stresses they are dealing with, children are very intelligent and can pick up on changes in mood and behavior in their parents. This has a powerful effect on them.

Homes that lack the necessary stability often lead to children with a reduced ability to focus. Since concentration is key to learning, it affects a child’s ability to process and assimilate information, no matter how well it is presented.

Routine and stability are vital to a child’s ability to learn and grow. This is troublesome as these characteristics can be difficult to maintain in today’s marital climate.

Technology dependence
Technology addiction is a real problem in today’s society, and unfortunately, it is affecting our children.  In a Quartz article titled “It’s not a drug, but it may as well be: Expert opinions on whether kids are addicted to tech,” the author states, “…research shows that screen time interferes with fundamental factors in healthy child development: sleep, healthy eating, and so-called “serve and return” moments between parents and children, in which parents respond to babies seeking assurance and connection with eye contact, smiles, and conversation, and which help lay the foundations of baby’s brains.”

In essence, it means that an overabundance of time spent engaged with technology is having an impact upon our children’s ability to learn properly. Attention spans are negatively affected, focus is impacted, and impulse control becomes incredibly difficult to regulate. All of this is counterproductive to producing a generation of young people who are properly equipped to enter the work force.

While technology plays a role in life, it is critical that it remains controlled by the user instead of assuming the responsibility as the controlling force. With children, parental involvement is vital in order for a boundary to be established and maintained. Our children need to learn to use technology properly in order to be prepared to compete in today’s work environment; however, it is also important that they learn limits and are able to function without the constant bombardment of technology for entertainment. A proper balance must be achieved. 

Bullying in schools
The National Center for Education Statistics claims that as many as 1/3 of all students ranging in age from 12 to 18 experienced some form of bullying on a frequent basis in the year 2007. While bullying has always been in a problem in schools, its prevalence is reaching epidemic proportions.

Students who find themselves the victims of this act suffer with a range of issues including poor self image, an inability to trust, passivity, overt aggressive tendencies, anger issues, and personal isolation from life in general. All of these things lead to a child with a reduced capacity to learn. School environments need to be safe zones where a child can be free from fear and properly set up for educational growth. 

Poor attitude
Unfortunately, discipline has become a dirty word in today’s social climate. But permissiveness and freedom of choice often leads to children who are out of control. Children require boundaries in order to thrive. As our children gain maturity, they are then able to exercise the correct control to make wise decisions for themselves. To yield this power too young is to turn our children into ticking time bombs. Wise decisions require the ability to carefully consider the consequences of our actions. Children develop that skill over time and under the most carefully cultivated conditions.

It is critical that our children learn proper respect for authority. The penchant towards equality, which is an important concept, often results in children believing that they can adopt any attitude they like, and it must not only be tolerated but also accepted. However, society still operates under a mutually understood code of etiquette and manners. As in all areas of life, proper balance is important.  It is not a matter of social hierarchy. It is a matter of courtesy and respect. Nothing positive is gained from a poor attitude.

Emphasis on testing
All children are intelligent; however, not all children test well. Traditionally, testing is largely written, and children who have difficulty expressing themselves in this manner will not excel when forced to regurgitate information in this manner.

Other children do well at memorizing material and can easily discuss what they have learned with a teacher but struggle with the written word or reading and responding to a series of questions. In addition to this, the anxiety induced by the testing process itself can lead to shut down behavior in some children. It’s not that they don’t know the material; they simply cannot think under traditional testing conditions.

Because of this, acquired knowledge is best assessed through a variety of means and methods. While some stress is important to equip children for life in the adult world, care must be taken to provide adequate support and assistance as well.  Children need to experience real world conditions, but they also need to be exposed to them at a rate that encourages growth not stifles it.

Lack of parental influence
In a society where two incomes are necessary for families to survive, children are often left to their own devices. While a child may be trustworthy enough to prepare their own meals, they often need parental assistance to complete homework tasks. Unfortunately, sometimes that just isn’t possible. Kids need their parents to thrive, yet many parents are stuck in the midst of the ”rat race” just trying to make enough money to survive.  It is a tragic cycle for which there seems to be no answer. 

Budgetary restrictions
Budget cuts are deeply affecting what teachers are able to provide for our children. Gone are the days of music, art, and even gym in some schools. Our children benefit from these classes, yet schools claim they can no longer afford the salaries of the professionals needed to provide them. These classes help to enrich and develop young minds, and they provide an important respite from the heavier academic workload. Sadly, they are considered frivolous and wasteful when the other alternatives are to start cutting classes such as history, sciences, and maths.

But more than this, budgetary restraints also often mean the elimination of teachers’ aides. With classroom sizes at an all time high and multiple levels of educational abilities represented in each classroom, teachers need help more than ever before. And help is simply not available. It’s not in the budget. Teachers limp along under the weight of a burden too heavy for one person to carry alone. It’s an impossible mission for anyone to attempt to handle.

Classroom coddling
While sensitivity to others is an important and necessary skill, it seems we have swung too far the opposite way in our classrooms today. If Little Johnny sneezes twice in a row, people are ready to call an ambulance as death could be imminent. We are a culture now prone to gross overreaction.

Gone are the days of peanut butter sandwiches because even though there are no known allergies in the school, they COULD develop over time, and it is better to be safe than sorry.  Today, schools pander to the minority rather than the majority. While situations such as allergies are a very serious matter and all measures must be taken to ensure the safety of every child, sometimes things get taken too far. As a result, our children start to think the world IS going to revolve around them, and they are in for a rude awakening when they hit the working world and find out that that is most definitely not the case. Our children are individuals of great value, but they are no more important than any other child within their classroom. They must learn tolerance and respect of others and their needs and wants as well. 

“No child left behind”
While President Bush’s education bill may not reflect this particular sentiment, the penchant for passing every child through to the next grade regardless of actual attained ability is hurting our children in more ways than one. Though it is painful to be held back a grade due to lack of met outcomes, it is the far lesser evil than being pushed ahead only to face material that the child lacks the skills to handle without the properly established educational foundations. Gaps in education cannot be addressed in subsequent grades. This means that material that has not been properly digested is never actually learned, and future learning cannot take place. This is where illiteracy begins.

Ineffectual teaching methods
The old saying is true; if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Many traditionally, tried and tested teaching methods have been thrown out the window. While innovation is always a good thing, to throw out means that have been effective in education for the majority for many years to try to help a few who struggle is unwise. Yes, there is a need to develop new approaches to assist students who would better assimilate information in a different fashion, it is foolish to abandon what has worked successfully in the past for so many others. A blending of the two is the way forward.

Teacher burnout
Sadly, with resources at all time low and teachers seriously overtasked, we are losing some of our best and brightest teachers to burnout. This leaves our children with a plethora of inexperienced teachers who are ill-equipped to deal with the excessive work loads placed at their feet. As a result, everyone suffers, but most of all our children do.

There is no doubt that the education system definitely needs reform. Though are teachers may not be messing up our children, they also aren’t given the tools and support that they need to help them to truly shine. It’s time for change. Our children deserve it.



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