In my experience as a high school teacher I always observed the behavior of learners. I would always come early to work just to stand by the gate as I watch them coming in. I would see some of them strolling to school like they are in a beauty contest while they are 5 minutes late. Some of them who already know they were late would come in running. And of course there are those who just don’t care whether they are late or ‘later’… lol.
As I was doing these observations a question kept on crossing my mind: what are these learners really responsible for? And of course this concern was something that I thought should be raised in the classroom but how do I begin addressing it?
What learners should be responsible for is a touchy, touchy topic that I think there will never be complete agreement about. Generally we all know the saying that says: “every learner is responsible for their own learning” but this really doesn’t hold water in my view.
What are you doing as a teacher to make your learners want to learn? How do you embed in them a sense of responsibility?
What are you doing to engage your learners?
How are you making sure they pay attention? What are you doing to make them care?
How are you igniting their curiosity? Drawing their attention away from one another? Minimizing distractions?
If a classroom was like a living room, how would you get learners to put down their phones and listen to you? Because you know that if you don’t engage them emotionally, you’ll never reach them intellectually.
As I said earlier that what learners should be responsible for is a very touchy topic. Just like ‘racial issues, using technology in the classroom since some learners are more exposed to it than others, the connection between poverty and learner achievement and countless other topics.
Education is emotional because learning is emotional and there are a few topics that can get a teacher to have difficulties addressing, topics such as the success and need for success of his learners; their behavior and how they can manage it; their ‘home-life’ and what issues they bring to school; their kindness and their attitude; how they conform and how they resist.
Schools are like greenhouses and teachers are gardeners. Of course they talk about plants and flowers and seeds and vegetation. That’s why they are there. If we can understand this metaphor in order to examine the processes that are involved in the process of teaching, then we can understand that in a greenhouse, the gardener generally knows how plants will respond to care.
Each plant needs a certain amount of water and sunlight. Two plants can respond very differently to the same fertilizer. They may grow more or less in certain years and benefit from unique pH levels. But all-in-all growing plants is simply different than growing learners because the performance of plants is general, even and consistent. For every input, there is an extremely predictable output.
Plants are consistent when they grow but there’s no ‘free will’ at the center of its growth. They do what they are biologically programmed to do with very little difference. And though it could be argued that learners do exactly the same thing (that is they are also programmed to resist and compete and fall behind and fail and succeed and so on).
The point I’m trying to make here is that we know exactly what to expect from plants but we have no idea what to expect from learners or even what’s fair and reasonable to expect of them every time they set foot in the classroom.
So what can we reasonably expect from a learner? And can we get specific? Can this expectation be quantified? Or it should be vague and abstract, like saying ‘their best effort’. Or maybe it can be something observable, like ‘Get to class on time’. ‘Don’t distract other learners or complete and submit all the work’. This is generally how we create class rules and school behavior guidelines, and are often even a large part of how we grade learners, too.
What Are Teachers ‘Responsible’ For?
As teachers we are expected to create habits of learning, not the learners because teachers are adults and professionals therefore teaching and learning becomes an on-going negotiation between the teacher, the learner and the content.
We are creating this expectation that our learners need to perform in the given curriculum, the learning program, the schedule and we are often brutal when evaluating whether those expectations have been met.
A life of a teacher is a very difficult one and they are always held to account. They are pressed for results. They are trained, monitored, observed and evaluated. They are pushed hard to get the results.
Let’s say we accept these pressures and why they are necessary. What about the plants (the learners)? What are they accountable for? I know this sounds like I’m saying learners are let off the hook in their own learning, but I’m not. This is a question meant to create some kind of discussion. How you respond depends largely on your personal philosophy as a teacher. I’m talking about your own expectations and beliefs you bring into the table. If this means that there will never be an agreement that’s absolutely fine.
What are your learners responsible for? Who are they responsible to?
Should we place any kind of ‘responsibility’ on learners at all? If so, how can we best communicate that to learners, parents, and families to help children grow?
Should it be the same for all learners? Can or should it be personalized? If so, how?
What happens when learners don’t fulfill those responsibilities? What happens when they don’t fulfill those expectations? 30 years ago, they might’ve ‘failed.’ Been ‘held back.’ Research says that doesn’t work, so we stopped doing that. So what next? Is there a next?
What kind of a responsibility or individual accountability should learners feel they enter a classroom? Is it enough to simply hope that we can simply create curiosity and engagement and inspire these learners? If so, what can we point out as proof that this approach works for all learners?
How can we make ordinary education extraordinary?
And if we can’t, does that mean that we replace the teachers? Or the curriculum? Or the schools? Do we ditch the learning models, or the systems of thinking, planning, design, and evaluation that created all of these parts to begin with? Let me know in the comments below.