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Location: Anderson, IN, United States

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Why Johnny Can't Read: Teachers Make Excuses

In response to one teacher's howl for even less work (http://www.theledger.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20041006/NEWS/410060311&SearchID=73190274893535),
I sent the following letter to the Polk County (FL) Lakeland Ledger (where it was published below another, similar one http://theledger.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20041020/NEWS/410200322/1037/EDIT04):

A middle school teacher recently inadvertently explained why our schools fail: Teachers won't step up to challenges. She already has her excuses in line. We had hurricanes, so we should cancel this year's Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

School days were lost at the beginning of the year, she said. Those days will be made up. She blames stress, in the homes and in the classrooms. We should be in "full normal mode" long before the FCAT [Florida Comprehensive Achievment Test] comes around.

The FCAT isn't an end in itself; it's there to measure a general level of knowledge and ability. If she focused on education instead of teaching to a minimum-knowledge test, she wouldn't have to sweat the minimums.

It's really about her. She says teachers' morale is low because teachers "don't know if their students will be able to make the grade because of all of these outside influences." Blame the students, assume they can't -- and they won't.

Her own stress is higher too: "Will their teaching abilities be questioned?" (That shouldn't stress her out: It's nearly impossible to get rid of a merely lousy teacher, regardless how incompetent or lazy.) So, she says, solve her problem: Cancel the FCAT. Don't ask her to dig a bit deeper, to get her students through the test. She has already given up.

Her own example is to simply give up, and to teach our children to give up, every time there is a problem. When these kids grow up and face stress, what should they do -- deal with it, or collapse at its first appearance?

Winter Haven

Teachers responded with vitriol, but did not address my points:

Interestingly, I replied to the first, by sending the letter below to the editor, who obligingly forwarded it:
Mr. Marston:

Thank you for printing my letter to the Editor about excuse-making teachers who want to dump the FCAT, and also for publishing the rebuttal letter from Holly Cooper, who invited me to spend a week in the classroom.

While I don’t have an entire spare week to devote to this, I’d be pleased to attend Mrs. Shattuck’s class for two days.

If you could make the connection, perhaps she and I could set this up, and we’ll see if I do, as she asserts, owe Mrs. Shattuck (whose name I did not use in my letter, by the way) an apology.

Please note for the record, that Ms. Cooper did not refute any of my arguments; she simply stated how devoted Mrs. Shattuck is. I make no quarrel with her devotion; it is her efficacy of which I am skeptical.

Thank you.

Tim Kern
PS. I am an active substitute teacher in Polk County, and I am certified 6-12 in Social Studies, as well. I taught high school through the 1998-99 academic year, and I currently teach college. I never make excuses for my students; they make plenty of their own!

If you would like to forward this to H.D. Childree (the other letter-writer who did not address my challenges, but used my letter as a pretense for lobbying for additional baby-sitting fees), as well, it might clear up any misunderstanding on his/her part.

---...and then

Three weeks went by without even an acknowledgment of receipt of my intent to take these teachers up on their public offer, I again contacted the longsuffering Mr. Marston:

Hello, Mr. Marston.

Just between us, I deserve an apology from these nasty teachers (Cooper and Childree).

Since they viciously attacked me by name (I had the professional decency to purposely omit Mrs. Shattuck’s name from my letter, figuring she’d already embarrassed herself enough) on your pages October 25 and threw down the gauntlet to have me attend classes, I assumed they were serious. I immediately accepted their invitation, and I haven’t heard from either of them.

I guess they’re just complainers and prevaricators. Their ‘invitation’ was evidently as thin as their effectiveness.

It’s been over three weeks since I replied and accepted their offer. Now, my schedule has closed in around me, and I will not be able to take them up on their phony invitation until after Christmas time. (Oops – I mean, “the holidays.”) On second thought, why should I go? They don’t have anything to teach me.

Phonies and cowards, all, and rude. Their inaction and lack of even a reply prove my original point.

I hope (new Superintendent) Gail McKinzie addresses this excuse-making pack of problems that receive teachers’ pay and benefits. (…and I’ll bet she won’t.)

If you would like to do a real story on ‘Why Johnny Can’t Read’ (offered originally to school board member Brenda Reddout, who also ignored my offer – she didn’t even answer), I’d be pleased to offer a few insights gained from many years of teaching in effective schools, my years as a turnaround consultant, and my experience with Polk County’s system.

Thank you again, for the courage to have run my original letter, and for forwarding my acceptance to these ladies.

Tim Kern


Blogger ellie said...

just loved reading your blog on teachers and their response and lack of it. Had me falling on the floor laughing. Have you tried turning this all into a stand up act given to various political conventions? Actually your line about you don't make excuses for YOUR students as they meke enough for themselves had me laugh out loud.
ellie beth

2:14 PM  
Blogger ellie said...

Loved your style where your mood shifts to exasperated. Especially liked your line about you wouldn't make excuses for your students-they make enough of their own.
Can you find out how the kids actually do for that teacher on Fsaps compared to other teachers? too bad they didn't follow up with you in the class. Would have been wild to read about how it was for 2 days in her class.

2:22 PM  

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