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Who is responsible?

Teachers often complain about the sheer number of things they are expected to do in their job. Emails circulate listing the various ‘jobs’ a teacher does: social worker, nurse, career planner, coach, librarian, mentor, parent, and more. As I reflect back on this school year I’ve been thinking about the various things a school does or might be expected to do.

My school serves a population of students who have many needs; linguistic, financial, emotional, etc. Obviously, as a school we can’t fill in all these gaps. However, we do try to help out where we can. We offer English language classes to parents and other community members during the school day and in the evenings. Teachers have driven students to school for evening events and home afterward. Teachers or other staff members have driven students and/or parents to see a doctor, dentist, or mental health professional to help with paperwork, especially when there is no insurance.

I’m wondering about the role and limitation of the school. What should a school be doing? Where does it end?

Obviously, our responsibility is the education of the students. It is easy to simply draw a line that divides educational duties apart from everything else. I believe our students deserve better from us. I’m unwilling to abdicate responsibility simply because something is not clearly related to my educational duty. My students deserve every opportunity to be successful and sometimes that requires more from me or from my school.

But a school can’t be everything to everyone. At some point we can’t or shouldn’t be involved. Where is that line? Does the line differ at different schools? Should I be doing more at my Title I school than a teacher at a school in a middle-class neighborhood? How do we help students whose parents can’t or won’t care for them properly? What is the role of a school in our society?

6 Responses to “Who is responsible?”

  1. Andrea H. says:

    I’ve thought about this a lot over the years. Schools are an important part of the community, and, as such, they could and, I think, should be used to provide more than just education. However, I don’t think that all of those things should fall on the shoulders of the teachers. I do think that teachers can play a role in providing what students need, however, it can not be expected of us as part of our job. Schools need to employ various people who can help students in different ways.

  2. shorerunner says:

    The whole “where do we draw the line” question is very difficult for teachers to address because a lot of times it is hard to seperate yourself from your students because you develop a caring relationship for them. You want them to succeed and do well just like a parent would. You try to teach them but sometimes you come up against problems such as unsupportive parents or things like low-income/poverty. When I first began teaching I would take all of these problems on as my own. But my best piece of advice to give is that you can only do what you can do within the 8am-4pm or whatever timeframe you have with your kids. Do not take everything personally because you may see somethings that are wrong and you have to do what you can as a teacher, but don’t let it break you .

  3. BonMar says:

    Whatever happened to being a decent human being and going the extra mile with everyone we come in contact with. Unfortunately we have to be careful about legal aspects, but I say the heck with that. Students that I homebound teach I get to know them and their families on a personal level. I will gladly give them money, medicine, and most importantly my time.

  4. Andrea H. says:

    @BonMar It sounds like you are assuming that if teachers try to draw the line and conserve their energies they are not being decent human beings. I think, at least in my experience, it is more a matter of realizing that time is not unlimited. Many of us have families of our own that are deserving of our time.

    Teaching is unique among professions. We do become attached to our students and their families. We should and must give of ourselves, and, for most of us, the time, money and energy spent on our students goes way beyond what we are paid for.

  5. Andrea wrote:
    @BonMar It sounds like you are assuming that if teachers try to draw the line and conserve their energies they are not being decent human beings. I think, at least in my experience, it is more a matter of realizing that time is not unlimited. Many of us have families of our own that are deserving of our time.

    What makes this question even more interesting is the idea that we just might be harming ourselves by going above and beyond all the time!

    I sometimes wonder if the extra effort that I put in at my school and for my students beyond my contract and long into the evening for no additional compensation is simply being taken for granted by my administrators, by law makers, by the community.

    People have just grown to expect that I’ll do whatever it takes to make my kids successful.

    And while I’m passionate about that work—and committed to helping kids regardless of the personal costs—I worry that I’m making it easy for “the powers at be” to avoid giving me a raise!

    Why pay me more for work that I’m already doing for free?

    What’s more, I worry that I raise the bar to ridiculous levels for other teachers. You see, I haven’t been lucky enough to be a parent yet, so I’ve got more extra time on my hands than the average teacher.

    I invest that time into reading and writing about my profession and developing cutting edge instructional experiences for my kids. I also spend more on my classroom than most teachers that I know. If we need a new digital tool, I’ll buy it. If we need new books for the bookshelf, I’ll buy it.

    And while I earn plenty of celebration for that work, other teachers are criticized because they’re not more like me. “If Mr. Ferriter can do all those wonderful things with his kids, why can’t you?” they’ll ask.

    So the question rumbling through my mind is do Uber-Teachers who go far beyond the normal expectations for educators do more harm or more good for our profession?

    If we drew a clear line in the sand and refused to cross it, would we be able to get others to value the work that we’ve always done for free?

    Sure—it would run contrary to all that we are as teachers to turn away from meaningful work that would be left undone without us…..but if we just keep doing this work without demanding fair compensation, will our salaries ever rise to levels comparable to other professionals?

    You’ve got me thinking today…

  6. Renee Moore says:

    Teachers doing more than “teaching” the official curriculum is not a new thing in our schools. It was not unusual for teachers of poor children to provide extra clothes, personal hygiene items, food, minor health care, and other needs for their students. It was even more common, especially for teachers in the old rural segregated schools to provide instruction in community and self esteem, and other survival information.

    I think it is part of my calling as a teacher to sometimes go beyond the curriculum guide and help my students, and sometimes their families gain access to information that could make a vital difference in their lives.

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