Teachers Graded, Students Motivated?














The big idea today in education seems to be that we need to tie teacher pay and evaluation to student test scores.  I used to be a big fan of this.  I remember when I thought this was how you should do it.  I was convinced that if a teacher didn’t have good test scores then he or she were not doing their job.  NO!

I cannot tell you what a bad idea is!  You can take the worst teacher and put them in the best class and that class, those kids will do okay if they care about grades and things important to education.  You can take the best teacher and put him or her in the worst class and if those kids don’t care then you will see it in their test scores.  I have seen it first hand.

I hear you saying, “well if the teacher is truly a ‘good’ teacher then she will motivate her students to WANT to do well.”  How I wish this were true!  I have seen the best teachers and people expend tremendous amounts of energy at trying to motivate and encourage a young person who just doesn’t want to do what you are trying to get them to do.  How do you change that?

I’m not sure that that question can be answered solely in the education arena.  We have an apathetic public.  We have a country who votes for the person who promises them the most.  Free health care, free food stamps, free cell phones for pete’s sake.  We are becoming a nation that wants more for less, is it any wonder it has found its way into the classroom?

I am a history teacher and as such think it is pretty darn important to teach.  But why do we teach history?  Of course we must know our history so we can make decisions based on past guidance and from a sense of knowledge from our past mistakes.  But we also can learn from the wisdom of the past.  “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”  Of course these famous words come from President John F. Kennedy.  He was a democrat, so any argument of political party can be transcended if take the time to know our history.  President Kennedy was saying it is time to get out there and DO SOMETHING of value. To give, not take.  My how the times are a changin’.

But I digress!  Is it fair to measure my work on the basis of someone else’s work?  No!  But we do it all the time.  Sports is the best example.  We blame coaches and managers all the time for the success or failure of a team.  And sometimes we are right to blame them.  But how often does that coach leave that team and become successful somewhere else?  Don’t we have to ask ourselves who the problem was?

I know we need to measure teachers, but please don’t measure me based on how a 13 year feels on a single day!  I once had  one of my students stop and ask me, “Mr. Freese, does it suck to have a job that depends on a 13 year old?” He hit the nail on the head!  We don’t even do that with football coaches, at least they get 16 games to prove themselves.

According to the state of Texas I get 52 questions given in one four-hour period.  And don’t forget, we are “motivating” our players with millions of dollars.  Our students are being motivated by what?  Something from within or grades, and I am here to tell that for many, if not most, of our students, grades isn’t doing it any longer.  So what do we do? How can you motivate?  Motivation is innate, it has to be to last.  Our desire to “grade” everyone, including teachers, by a number isn’t going to cut it any longer.

So we have to ask ourselves the question: How is that working out for you?  Not too well in my mind.  We must have accountability for ALL of us in education.  But if we are going to hold our teachers accountable (and I believe we should) we MUST hold our students accountable as well.  Passing them on when they don’t pass the test is doing no favors to anyone.  It is time to hold our students accountable for their grades and behavior.  But this will be difficult in today’s permissive culture.  If we don’t, we will continue to get what we have, which is a failing system and a system of accountability that is a bigger failure still.

What do you think?  Until next time, peace.


About the Author