If Kids Can’t Choose Their Teachers, Then We’d Better Stop Making Excuses For Bad Teaching

Kids can’t choose:

  1. To be born
  2. To go to school (until age 16, in most U.S. states)
  3. Their teachers

This automatically means that teaching is one of the most profound moral enterprises  imaginable other than parenting because of how little freedom the kids have.

Why is slavery such an abomination to almost all people in modern society? Because we can’t imagine what it would be like to wake up every morning being unable to choose our destiny. The lack of hope inherent in that vision is anathema to most people who reflect on it.

But this is exactly what kids face every day they have to wake up, go to school, and sit in classrooms with adults who think it’s not their problem if kids don’t want to do what they’re told the first time they’re asked.

Yes, teaching a huge classroom of kids with diverse academic, emotional and psychological needs is extremely hard. Okay, so what? And now what?

At some point this has to stop being about us. Exasperation is not an option. We’ve already had our shot at overcoming our childhood baggage and our fears of failure or success and all the other things we were supposed to transcend on our march toward adult responsibility and maturity. The window for self-absorption in the pursuit of an identity has passed for us, but not for kids.

If we’re educators, that wasn’t foisted on us. We’re here because we chose to be, and no one’s holding a gun to our head to stick around.

So what excuses are possibly valid for not trying our absolute best when standing in front of a room full of kids who had no choice at all in ending up in those seats?

I’ve recently discovered John Holt, the late teacher and prolific author of books on education reform and home schooling. He said the following in the preface to his book How Children Learn:

“All I am saying in this book can be summed up in two words: Trust Children. Nothing could be more simple, or more difficult.”

The most brazen reminder for me of our lack of trust in children, and by extension, our disregard for their perspectives on what they need, is the fact that many of them are forced to sit in classrooms for 180 days per year with adults who may not even like children.

The only rational response to kids’ reality (if we truly respect their innate dignity) is to do our absolute best in teaching them, because they can’t choose to be in the room with us. This also means we can’t allow self-centered excuses to limit our drive to figure out how each student ticks.

This isn’t a business that will just experience slow third quarter earnings if we slack off. We aren’t manufacturing tangible, identical products or providing discrete, repeatable services to paying customers who freely choose to buy. We’re shaping human beings’ futures. The complexity of that task is mind-blowing. Slacking off or making excuses doesn’t compute in this instance.

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