In response to my post on who is responsible for student learning, Miller wrote:

I go to the doctor and she tells me to take a medication to get better. I don’t follow her instructions and get worse. Should I sue her? Is it her fault? Has she committed malpractice? According to YOU she did.

I’ve actually got lots of problems with the doctor/teacher analogy, Miller. While it may seem like a logical comparison because doctors suggest plans of action to patients who can choose to follow directions or ignore advice, that’s where the similarities stop.

Perhaps most importantly, you’re suggesting that students have the same ability to make reasoned decisions as adults. Rick Wormeli—author, educational consultant and fellow TLNer—shaped my thinking on this issue a few months back in a conversation we were having about holding students accountable for meeting deadlines for assignments.  Here’s some of what he said:

“We are not teaching adults, we’re teaching youth. The morphing humans we teach do not have adult-level competencies yet. To expect them to have their entire lives so together as to make everything work out in a timely manner is inappropriate. Students are messy as they grow, often taking 3 steps forward for every two steps backward.

The examples given for adults meeting deadlines such as working 12 or more hours in a day to meet a contract deadline, etc., are possible because these workers are adults. They have control over their lives, they know their bodies, they can re-arrange other things in their lives, and they can set aside some recovery time after the task is completed.

Our students have none of these options. They really can’t re-arrange everything else in their lives, they can’t stay until 10:00 at night at their school to work on things, skip out on taking care of their younger siblings if the parents are working evenings, or argue with the football coach to skip the state championship because they need to finish their essay on how cuneiform writing dramatically impacted the Fertile Crescent.

Students’ physiology is changing which makes it hard for students to “read” their bodies. They can’t go without sleep, and take time afterwards to recover from the long days. They are so egocentric in the now of the moment that they can rarely task analyze so well as to plan appropriately for how long something will take to complete, especially if there are many somethings…

Our students are imperfect beings, constantly mixing priorities, dealing with temptations, and often making the wrong decisions…Our commission is to teach so that students learn, not just present curriculum and blindly hold students accountable for it.

The idea that each of our students learns at the same pace as everyone else goes against all we know about human psychology and the way the mind learns….We do a lot more for students by extending to them a compassionate ladder with which to climb from the hole they’ve dug themselves than we do by yelling at them from the hole’s rim, “Just sit down there and try to become a better person while the rest of the world passes you by.”

I guess I just can’t understand the rim-sitters in our schools. Do they doubt their own ability to educate?  Are they too lazy to change? What satisfaction do they take in seeing any student—no matter how belligerent or irresponsible—fail? Is additional training necessary to help them fill in ability gaps that have lingered for years?

And I’m completely frustrated by our inability to hold rim-sitters accountable for their actions. Instead, we just turn our backs and pretend like we don’t know what’s going on in their rooms. We’re willing to fight when our own children get assigned to their classrooms but we do nothing to protect other people’s kids from the consequences of unprofessional practice.

If this were medicine, rim-sitters would be called before a review board and lose their license.

In education, they get a salary-step increase for experience.

Does that bother anyone besides me?

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