Clients, Not Products - Blog! - Two-Fisted History

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Clients, Not Products

Modern cultural conceptions expect that every occupation has a tangible, measurable product that is associated with it - something that can be used to measure productivity and competence.  If you work in a factory, your product is whatever gets turned out.  If you work as a financial manager, your sales are your ‘product.’  If you work as an electrician, your wiring is your work.

What about teachers?  Hmm.   An educated, knowledgeable student must be a teacher’s product, right?  Following the logical progression, you’d think so.  That’s the conclusion that many bureaucrats and curriculum developers have come to as well.  There’s a major issue with that line of reasoning, however.  Students aren’t products.  They’re clients. 

A product is a standardized unit.  An inanimate widget.  An inanimate widget can have its qualities standardized and tested for quality.  We can test to make sure that it works correctly according to specifications.  That it was built correctly and has all the pieces that it’s supposed to have.  A student isn’t like that, and that’s something State and Federal Education Departments have forgotten.  It feels redundant to say that each student is unique, but I think that I have to say it.  An educator does not create a student.  Each student comes to the educator’s classroom with different parts, different abilities, and different traits.  Parts, traits, and abilities that the teacher had no part in forming.  That doesn’t stop the teacher from trying their best to provide an education for each student that comes through their door.

How do we ensure that widgets meet our expectations?  We test them!  That must mean we need to test students.  Well, that’s fine.  We do need to assess whether or not they’re catching the material.  But how do we do it?   One standard test may work for testing the standard widget, but one standard test doesn’t work for the individual.  Different students behave differently under the same circumstances.  They are people, after all.  While one student does a fantastic job at answering multiple choice questions and hitting the targets on DBQ essays (whether they know the material or just understand how to game the tests), her classmate might be a horrendous test-taker.  He might be better off with an oral assessment where he has a one-on-one with the instructor where they discuss the unit, or perhaps design an awesome and creative project where they demonstrate that they’ve learned the material.

What’s the other reason we test out widgets?  To ensure that producers are holding up their end of the deal and manufacturing quality products.  We need to make sure the teachers are building high-quality students, right?  Teachers need to be held accountable, daggummit!

Ugh.  Much like ‘Data-Driven Decision,’ every time someone says ‘Accountability,’ a fairy dies.

We’ve already established that not all students are the same.  They each have different motivations, personalities, and interests – not to mention extra-curricular lives.  These are things educators have no control over.  As a classroom teacher, if I have a student that doesn’t want to be in class and is bound & determined to show me through every possible means that they would rather be anywhere else, it’s going to take a miracle and a long amount of time to change that student. 

Secondly, in their extra-curricular lives education may not just be a lower priority, it may be a liability.  CEO and Financial Analyst Charles Payne has often recounted a story from his youth when he received a plastic briefcase with a calculator inside.  He was often ridiculed and mocked for wanting to break out of his lower-class urban neighbourhood.  One day he returned from lunch to find the lock on his briefcase broken and the calculator missing.  I can’t speak for all teachers, but I can think of at least a dozen students I teach that act less smart than they are and do far less than they’re capable to draw attention away from themselves and to ensure that less is expected of them.

Further, some households place education as a lower priority.  In the Read-Aloud Handbook, Jim Trelease points out, ‘In a school year, a child spends 7800 hours at home and 900 hours in school.  Which teacher should be the most accountable?’  Parents and guardians need to be active in some way in promoting the education of their children.  Children and adolescents pick up on the cues of the adults around them and adopt their attitudes.  If the adults at home eschew models and routines that promote a positive outlook towards education, you can be sure that their children are going to take it just as seriously.

As far as teachers are concerned, the keyword isn’t ‘accountability,’ it’s ‘responsibility.’  Teachers know what they’re doing.  They’re aware of the responsibilities that they have to the students and society to do the best they can to educate children.  It’s not a responsibility that we take lightly.  There used to be a time when teachers were trusted to instruct students, and it was acknowledged that they knew what they were doing without the intervention of some curriculum board in Washington or in the state capital made up of people who don’t understand education or the various content areas.  Due to a major cultural shift in high-population areas, however, it seems to be that it is no longer a either an accountability issue or a responsibility issue on the individuals that need to put in the most work – the students.  Knowledge, education and understanding cannot just be handed to or forced upon someone.  They are things that one must work for, like participating in the Olympics or creating a masterpiece.  That’s something that bureaucrats and curriculum developers and the folks who develop the latest, ‘greatest’ Education Implementation Plan need to realize.

Our students are clients, not just a product.

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