Let me start this post off with a few declarations. I think teaching is the most challenging profession there is today. I think there are so many dynamics that impact our work, that it is rare to be able to do the same thing over time. I think we are blessed with people who choose to become teachers as they are truly able to change lives. I think we are all difference makers.
Of all those statements, the last one only becomes inaccurate if we let it. And we let it by rallying around the excuses that are prevalent and become reasons why we might believe that success is only for those who deserve/earn it. I have heard many school share that they believe in “success for all” but once we scratch below the surface, the exceptions roll out. With some variation depending on locale, here are the reason most offered for why success can’t be reached by some students – poverty, second language learner, single parent, First Nations (Native American), minority race. This despite the lack of research that would validate any of these as absolute blocks to student achievement and growth. Buffum, Mattos, and Weber (2012) state it this way
“Are minority students born with a diminished capacity to learn at high levels? Does learning any language besides English at birth genetically alter a student’s ability to learn at high levels? Does poverty irreversibly alter a student’s potential to learn? Of course not! A student’s ethnicity, native language, and economic status do not reduce the child’s innate capacity to learn. These misconceptions are part of the cultural beliefs and assumptions of far too many schools, however, and they become a self-fulfilling prophecy for the students these schools serve.”
I am not suggesting that the information we have and know about kids should be blindly ignored. Just as I would not expect a patients’ medical history to be ignored by a Doctor on subsequent visits. In that analogy, the Doctor also does not declare that the patient is never going to get better because of the existing conditions. In our world, the information we have about students should be regarded as variables. They clearly have impact on the learning environment for children. A lack of proper nourishment and rest affects results. A lack of a home environment conducive to learning affects results. A lack of fluency in the language of instruction affects the results. Fortunately, high quality instruction, well designed interventions, and some of the best adults I have met in my life (teachers) have a far greater impact on improving the life chances of students. Let’s keep the clarity around these variables and steer clear of rallying around the excuses – no matter how significant they may appear to be.