Parents In Denial: Why Teachers Have Such A Hard Time Teaching
Louise Sloan, in a recent post for the New York Times’ Motherlode blog, inadvertently shed light on the reason so many teachers in America have trouble teaching. Using her son as an example, Sloan showed the laissez-faire attitude that so many parents possess when it comes to their children doing wrong in school. It’s pretty much a “my kid acts out, yes, but what can you do?” way of parenting that isn’t really parenting at all.
While I have nothing against Louise Sloan and believe that she has the best of intentions, it is parents like her that are destroying the public school system and making great teachers leave the profession.
Here’s an excerpt from her blog to demonstrate.
My 8-year-old is That Kid. The one who drives the teachers crazy. At best, he’s the class clown. At worst, he gets suspended for a fistfight with the other kid in his grade who can’t stay out of trouble, either. Last year there were 17 official incident reports.
What’s going on? Despite some $20,000 in professional assessments, the reasons my son acts out are still not entirely clear. He’s definitely extremely anxious about school and has been since a drill-sergeant-style preschool teacher traumatized him at age 3, which kicked off the behavior problems.
Ultimately, the why’s are irrelevant. It’s the “what now?” that concerns me. We’re still in that start-of-school honeymoon period, though Halloween is usually when he starts to take off the “good student” mask. Will this be the year he’s cuffed and carted out? And what about all the other kids like him?
For anyone who’s ever parented a child, the parenting errors that she is making are pretty glaring. Seventeen official incident reports are in no way normal. The “reasons” Sloan’s son acts out are “not entirely clear” and it all started with a “drill-sergeant-style” preschool teacher.
In other words, it didn’t start at home.
Newsflash: everything starts at home.
If Louise’s son found the preschool teacher to be “traumatizing” — providing there was no physical/sexual/mental abuse, as in something the teacher could/should be fired/dismissed for, and Louise implies that no such occurrence happened — then what her son was actually dealing with was a personality type that was sterner than what he was used to at home.
There’s nothing wrong with stern. Kids need to be exposed to it, especially when they’re at the age where they are able to distinguish the difference between right and wrong and make conscious choices.
Commenters agreed. “Why all the finger pointing to adults, parent and teachers alike?” asked Kate from Pennsylvania. “At what point does one address personal responsibility and coping strategies that she could be encouraging in her son? Seventeen reports are not the teacher’s fault, and moving him to a new program doesn’t touch the source of the issue. … It seems really odd to blame a preschool teacher. In this country, we pay for preschool, so the parent had to research and select a school, and then could have withdrawn, no? Most three year olds have tantrums — I suspect something else was going on.”
Another revealing phrase: “the ‘why’s’ [of acting out] are irrelevant.”
No, they’re not irrelevant, Louise. When there is something driving the child’s misbehavior, it should be found out and dealt with so he stops falling behind the other students and impeding the education of others. The “why’s” generally start at home, though, and that can be difficult for parents to realize because it implies that THEY are not doing enough. Unfortunately, Sloan’s piece gets worse in the teacher/system blaming and lays very little responsibility on Louise for making sure her son acts like he’s ready for the general public.
One example of how Louise blames teachers: “Turns out there’s a very clear answer to that question [of how teachers are supposed to handle misbehavior], based on 40 years of research. The techniques proven to stop bad behavior in children aren’t even that complicated. Here’s the problem: Nobody uses them.”
And what is that simple solution? Again, from Sloan’s post:
“The way to get rid of a behavior is to reinforce the opposite behavior,” said the psychologist Alan E. Kazdin, a professor at Yale and one of the top evidence-based child behavior experts in the country. “It’s been demonstrated ad nauseam.” In other words, you give your energy and attention to behaviors you want, not to the ones you don’t.
Simple. And something Louise is apparently NOT doing at home if her son is a problem-child, she’s aware of it, and yet he goes on causing trouble. How should it be a teacher’s responsibility to essentially ignore her son when he acts bad when that same teacher has the education, safety, and welfare of 20 to 30 other students to worry about.
The double-standard is clear, but yet not obvious enough for parents and politicians to see it. Your child will be what you allow him to be — not just with you but with other people. If your first instinct is to question what the teachers are doing wrong in such cases and not what your child is doing wrong, then you are polluting the very system that you wish to improve.
And one last thing — Louise just assumes that teachers are “just not using” the positive reinforcement that Dr. Kazdin supports. This is problematic because she offers no compelling evidence — only expects you to believe that her son’s misbehaviors are essentially the fault of someone or something else.
As a second commenter pointed out: “While I appreciate the author’s point about best practice for behavior redirection, it is irresponsible and sensationalist for her to make statements like ‘most schools take the exact opposite tack’ and ‘many teachers are … unaware of the research findings.’ How did this author arrive at her conclusion that ‘most educators’ are unaware of this research? As both a parent and an educator with 18 years of classroom experience, I would suggest that the opposite is true in ‘many’ schools and ‘most’ classrooms. Research-based evidence of this method has been in teacher-education textbooks for at least 22 years (I studied it in 1992). Maybe this is a problem in most Brooklyn schools, but not in most schools. … Behavior that yields attention is like money for a vending machine. If you put a coin in the slot and nothing comes out, you won’t put another coin in the slot. But if you do get something you’re likely to try another coin later.”
Here’s a link to the full piece if you’d like to get more of the context of what Sloan was trying to say. And again, I believe she means well, but she doesn’t see how she’s the hindrance to her child’s education by failing to set standards at home that lend themselves naturally to outside interaction.
So to recap, why do teachers have such a hard time teaching? Why do highly decorated teachers who have proven results on their resume end up washing out and heading to the private sector after a few years? Quite simply, it’s because parents like Louise Sloan fail to uphold the rigorous expectations for their children that they expect teachers to have in the classroom. It can be a subtle yet profound mistake that leads to major consequences over time. And until parents are ready to start holding their children accountable first ahead of the teacher, it will only continue to get worse.
[Image via SheKnows]