Can't Teachers Just Teach?
James H. VanSciver
A long-held notion about public school educators is that while they are delivering quality instruction, they also are parenting, helping their students navigate their personal journeys from childhood to adulthood. This includes helping them deal with conflict, bullying, and relationships.
As current economic conditions place more families in dire financial straits, cause districts to cut special education staff, and force a growing number of public assistance agencies to cut staff and reduce services, are public schools and those who labor in them capable of dealing with the growing number and variety of student needs?
Educators are not trained as psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, or mental health workers. Yet their students arrive with such challenges as opposition disorder, ADHD, generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, separation anxiety, autism, Asperger's Syndrome, Marfan Syndrome, Tourette Syndrome, depression, learning disabilities, and physical disabilities.
Some of these students receive special education services; some do not. Some receive medication; some do not. Some receive medication support but do not take their medication.
Consider the plight of the classroom teacher who is attempting to teach a group of 25 to 30 students and has one of more students with one or more of the aforementioned challenges in the class. This perspicacious teacher begins to feel the burden of having to constantly deal with a child whose needs far exceed the classroom's ability to satisfy them. Crucial instructional time continually is usurped from the teacher and classmates. Often, this results in falling test scores in a high stakes assessment school culture.
After several attempts to rectify the situation, the teacher refers the student to an administrator who has no more training in how to meet this student's needs than does the referring teacher. Meetings are scheduled, discussions held, parent involvement solicited, and plans implemented.
Still, the problem persists.
The educators reach out to community agencies. Schedules are complex; it takes a long time to schedule meetings; discussions are held again; parent involvement is again invited; and plans are again drafted and put in place.
Still, the problem persists.
If our government and our public are going to be so demanding about standardized test scores and so concerned about our students' ranking in education scores compared to other nations, they must ensure the students who are the neediest receive the support they require from those who are trained to meet those needs. Otherwise, all of our teachers will do less instructing and all of our students will do less achieving.
James H. VanSciver is principal at Mace's Lane Middle School in Cambridge, Maryland. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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