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LETTER: “Less-than-stellar teachers”

To the Editor:

Would Dick Sabine really have us believe that the poor performance of our communities’ students on the SAT is entirely to blame on their teachers? (Letter to the Editor: “School policies should be judged by a jury,” p. 3, TCT, August 25, 2011)

I have no doubt that there are some less-than-stellar teachers in our school system, just as there are some less-than-stellar workers in many of our other workplaces. But the idea that simply eliminating teacher tenure, even if that were feasible or desirable, would magically transform the performance of our students on the SAT is a bit hard for me to swallow.

Students are not passive vessels that simply “soak up” knowledge imparted to them by their teachers. Learning is an active process. Paying attention during lessons, taking notes, asking questions, practicing with the new material and studying are all crucial aspects of the student’s role in the process.

Unless they can afford to take a private prep course designed to prepare them specifically for the test, scoring well on the SAT generally requires students to be actively and effectively engaged in this complex process over a period of many years.

It seems to me that the large number of students in our community who don’t get enough to eat, don’t get enough sleep, are not expected to be at home doing their homework on school nights, are distracted by abuse or neglect or a parade of constantly changing “parental“ figures in their homes, were not read to or played with during the crucial period of brain development that takes place in the preschool years, don’t have a respected adult in their family who can model for them the long-term benefits of short-term sacrifice, or have parents who view competent teachers as adversaries rather than partners, are not likely to be in the best condition to effectively and consistently engage in this process, no matter how skilled or committed their teachers may be.

In light of this underlying problem, I’m not sure what “blaming the teachers” is going to accomplish, except perhaps to drive talented people away from a crucial profession.

For many reasons, there are a lot of children and teenagers in our community who are not getting the parental support they need to be good students. Instead of pointing fingers or putting overburdened municipal employees on yet another rigged show trial, maybe we’d all be better served by looking in our mirrors and asking ourselves what we can do to help.

Steve Bouchard


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