People at every level of education like to blame those at the earlier levels for not adequately preparing students. It’s become a standing joke: university professors deride their colleagues at the community college; undergraduate instructors berate high school teachers; high school faculty rip their middle school counterparts; who, in turn, badmouth the elementary school staff; who shake their fingers at the preschool; who throw up hands in exasperation about the parents.This blame game, however, is not amusing; it is dangerously divisive and a major distraction.

For one thing it begs a question: What do we mean by “prepared”? What exactly is it that we expect students to be prepared to do at each of these levels? Is there agreement on those expectations at all levels? Is it realistic that every child will move from one level to the next with the same amount of retention, understanding, and ability as the next? If we’re in the business of education, why are we so upset that children (and adults, at the college level) come to us needing to be taught?

Or, maybe we’re asking the wrong question. Maybe it’s the teachers who are not prepared–to take students from where they are when we meet them to as far as they can go in the time we’ve been given.  Maybe more of us should ask ourselves if a student arrives at my classroom door completely prepared, would I be ready for the challenge?

Or, maybe we need to question some of the unrealistic pressures and goals set by those outside the classroom, and fueled by the testing frenzy, who forget we’re not manufacturing cars or molding plastic containers that should all be identical at each step along the assembly line.

Every child can learn; that’s not just some cute, Pollyannaish phrase. How much each child learns is determined by the interaction of multiple factors: the most critical ones being the quality and attitude of each classroom teacher along the way.

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