image by John Ragai. Used under creative commons license.
So earlier this week, one of the clubs in my school messed something up. It wasn’t a horrible mistake or anything and I don’t really want to get into the specifics, but it was one of those types of mistakes that was easily visible and could have been easily prevented. As is with all mistakes of this type, the “Oh what a shame” conversations began among my fellow faculty members and at one point, I heard someone ask, “Who’s responsible?”
“Well,” I told that person, “the students are responsible but the adviser is going to get blamed.”
Yes, it was a snide remark, as I am a tight ball of stress during the last two weeks of school because the yearbook comes out and I live in constant fear of both not being able to pay the bill to the publisher and the angry parent phone call, but there’s also some truth in it as well. Whenever something that is supposed to be student-led or student-centered goes wrong, it seems that someone is going to the teacher or adviser and asking them, “How could you let this happen?” Heck, sometimes it’s even worse and there are people in the principal’s office, at school board meetings, and in the local media calling for the teacher in question to be fired.
I bring this up not to complain that as an activities adviser I am held accountable for the actions of my students (as a professional, I know the meaning of the word “accountability”), but because I have read a number of blog posts and sat in on a number of chats on Twitter lately where the discussion about the role of teachers has been about how our role is evolving and the notion of a “teacher” is probably obsolete. Some people go as far as to talk about how the notion of school is obsolete. Stop me if you’ve heard these before:
- You are no longer the sage on the stage. Be the guide on the side.
- Teachers shouldn’t think of themselves as teachers, but as coaches or mentors
- We are in a post-industrial society and no longer training children to work in factories
- Students should not be grouped by date of manufacture and be forced to learn what they don’t want to
- School should connect to real life and audiences should be authentic
Now, these are all nifty catchphrases and buzzy words, but forgive me if I tend to be a bit of a skeptic when I hear them (especially from the mouth of someone paid more than what I make in one month to come and talk to my faculty for one day), especially any of them that suggest that the job that I am doing is somehow irrelevant (Yes, I get defensive. You would too if you were told that you’re useless). But I’m not stubborn enough to think that my role doesn’t have to evolve with the times. I definitely like the idea of my students producing work for an audience that goes beyond the classroom or the school (though as I’ve said before, I take issue with my being considered not “authentic” enough of an audience), which is why I have enjoyed working on yearbooks and student newspapers.
But I have to wonder, if the student work isn’t very good or if there is something wrong about it that upsets someone, does it have to be just me that’s called on the carpet?
In my seven years as a yearbook adviser, I have had both ends of the spectrum when it comes to staffs–staffs who worked so well together that I truly felt like an adviser, and staffs who did so little of their own work that I can point to every page of that yearbook and tell you what I did to make it look good. With the latter type of staff, I found myself doing an enormous amount of work because I have an aversion to things with my name on them looking like crap. Call it egotistical, but it’s the truth. And I know that if I had put that aside and allowed things to look like crap, I would have been more or less found “responsible” for that crappiness even though I didn’t actually do the work.
There’s a point in here and I’ll get to it because it’s 8:00 on a Saturday morning and I have to get my son ready for a tee ball game. If we are going to encourage student-centered work that’s meant for an “authentic” audience (seriously), is it still our job to shield them from the negativity that exists when that authentic audience finds it sub-par or even offensive? Say a student posts a class project to YouTube and a parent in the district gets upset that “this is what is being produced in our classrooms?!?!” and goes to the school board. Should I put that student on the phone with the angry parent or bring him to the meeting with the principal or put him up in front of the school board or is it still my job to take the bullet? I’m not against the idea of continuing to take that bullet–after all, I am professional–but I wonder if the rhetoric that I bullet-pointed at the beginning of this post doesn’t set us up for a double standard, especially when our culture (that “real life” “authentic” audience) doesn’t know the ins and outs and nuances of education.