Bill Page responds in text and video to the kafuffle caused by his July 2008 article, “When is Student Failure the Teacher's Fault?”
Responsibility Equals Participation
by Bill Page
Regular contributor to the Gazette
August 1, 2008
I wish to follow up and respond to the many comments and questions posted on the Teacher Chatboard about last month’s article, “When Is Student Failure the Teacher’s Fault?” I offer the following article, explanations, defenses, and an additional video clip. Bill Page
“As a teacher, I cannot do more than I can do; but I can 'reasonably be expected' to do what I can do”.
Everyone wants responsible kids. Schools want and need students to be responsible and to become more responsible. We want them to be responsible for their learning, responsible for their behavior in class, for assignments, homework, and their materials. And, we expect students to grow into responsible adults. Responsibility is the key to achievement and success in school. However, I question the extent to which educators in general and teachers specifically understand responsibility. One thing I am sure about is that the way schools and teachers “make decisions for kids” - instead of taking full responsibility for their own decisions - does little to achieve “responsible kids.”
However complex, extensive, and complicated the concept of responsibility obviously is, my own working definition is really quite simple… responsibility equals participation. I cannot be responsible for anything in which I do not participate, not withstanding that deliberate failure to participate is a form of participation. I can only be responsible if I participate and to the extent I participate. If you don’t like the way your new car is engineered, don’t look at me, I do not engineer cars; if you don’t like your teaching assignment for the coming year, you can’t hold me responsible, I had nothing to do with it. I can only be responsible if I have a voice in the decisions, a voice that must be assured, not merely allowed.
The Key To Responsibility
If teachers want students to take or have responsibility, they have to ask themselves this question: to what extent do my kids ever really participate in class decisions? To what extent do they participate in the assignments, the curriculum, the schedule, the interaction, and the evaluation? What voice do my students have in the rules, policies, discipline, requirements, grading, testing, and marking? Do my student help decide class procedures, seating arrangements, lesson plans, or discussion format? If students have no participation, they are not responsible for what goes on, their learning, or the results. Only the ones making the decisions have the responsibility.
The lowest level of participation that autocratic teachers can ever get from their students is that they like or dislike the decisions imposed without their involvement. The only way one can get less participation than that, thereby less responsibility, is to remove the ability to express their like or dislike. If you bar the door, they can’t walk out. If you say, “Today I want you to write a theme on ‘What I Did Last Summer’” and they go “Yuuck!” …that, and a degree of compliance, is the extent of their participation. Students may or may not comply with your request and will decide how much, if any, effort to put into it.
A Further Explanation
That being said let me offer a philosophical basis for responsibility. I make my decisions, a hundred percent of them, a hundred percent of the time. And no one has ever made one for me. And every other human being makes his/her own decisions. I cannot be responsible for other people’s decisions but, obviously, my decisions affect those with whom I am in a relationship and vice versa.
In my classroom I make many decisions, including failure to make good decisions. My decisions affect you and your decisions affect me. But we do not make decisions for one another. It is analogous to “I drive my car and you drive yours.” I don’t make decisions for your driving, however if I decide to swerve toward your car you may decide to avoid a collision by driving off in a ditch. You are responsible for your decision. You could have done many things; your decision was wholly up to you. I did not decide what you would do.
Now allow me to offer the philosophical explanation of responsibility. Responsibility means “the ability of respond.” Any time I make a decision that affects you, you have the ability to respond (including the response of no response, which is a response). I in turn can respond to your response, and so on. Each response is entirely our own, made for our selves, affecting each other’s decisions but nevertheless our own.
And Finally a Specific Response
The opening sentence of my article, “When Is Student Failure the Teacher’s Fault?” was; “Teachers and students are in a relationship, each with his/her own responsibility.” And, in the second paragraph of the article, I stated, “… but the onus rests squarely on me as the teacher. When the teacher has exhausted all possible resources for producing learning, and the student still fails, only then might s/he focus on the student’s responsibility, problems, attitude, and knowledge.” I focused on the teacher’s responsibility, which begins when the student “shows up as compelled.” Each student makes a hundred percent of his/her decisions in response to mine. I did not want to get into the responsibility of students, parents, administrators or others in this article. I regret that in the void many of the responders concluded that I absolved others from their responsibility.
In my article, “We Get What We Get” (January 2002) I gave an unequivocal explanation of the parent’s responsibility, and the responsibility of others.
When Teachers.Net Gazette Editor Kathleen Carpenter sent me the thread from the general Teacher Chatboard, there were already 130 comments about my July article, with more added as I read, so I could not respond to each of them, However, I was excited and delighted with the responses and I was pleased to have stirred up some “responsible” thinking, complaining, and flaming.
At the risk of being defensive and for those who reminded me, as author, that they aren’t responsible for parents, previous teachers, truancies, unfortunate circumstances, attitudes, or lack of effort, I understand and accept the admonitions. My belief, very simply, is, “As a teacher, I cannot do more than I can do; but I can ‘reasonably be expected’ to do what I can do.”
Somehow I still believe that it is better to “light one little candle…” And as Edward Everett Hale wrote:
I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.
With joy in sharing,
VIDEO: Teacher Teacher: Responsibility
Author/Educator Bill Page discusses responsibility in the classroom and between teachers and students! Who is responsible for what? (10:59) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwgzXiOkqDE
Bill Page, a farm boy, graduated from a one-room school. He forged a career in the classroom teaching middle school “troublemakers.” For the past 26 years, in addition to his classroom duties, he has taught teachers across the nation to teach the lowest achieving students successfully with his proven premise, “Failure is the choice and fault of schools, not the students.”
Bill Page is a classroom teacher. For 46 years, he has patrolled the halls, responded to the bells, and struggled with innovations. He has had his share of lunchroom duty, bus duty, and playground duty. For the past four years, Bill, who is now in his 50th year as a teacher, is also a full time writer. His book, At-Risk Students is available on Abebooks, Amazon, R.D. Dunn Publishing, and on Bill’s web site: http://www.teacherteacher.com/
In At-Risk Students, Page discusses problems facing failing students, “who can’t, don’t and won’t learn or cooperate.” “The solution,” he states, “is for teachers to recognize and accept student misbehavior as defense mechanisms used to hide embarrassment and incompetence, and to deal with causes rather than symptoms. By entering into a democratic, participatory relationship, where students assume responsibility for their own learning.” Through 30 vignettes, the book helps teachers see failing students through his eyes as a fellow teacher, whose classroom success with at-risk students made him a premier teacher-speaker in school districts across America.