How helpful is it to obtain the views that teachers and administrators have of their students? Let me give you selected results of a survey made by the National School Boards Association’s Council of Urban Boards of Education (or CUBE). This survey, Where We Teach, follows directly last year’s survey, Where We Learn. The latter surveyed 32,000 students in 15 school districts in 13 states attempting to show how students felt about their school environment.
Where We Teach summararizes teacher and administrator perceptions about eight major themes – safety, professional development, expectations, bullying, professional climate, parental involvement, influence of race, and trust, respect, and ethos of caring.
In this study there were 13 school districts representing 10 states—Alabama, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, and Texas. Approximately 4,700 surveys were received from teachers in 127 schools, including 45 elementary schools, 33 middle schools, 20 high schools, 12 K-8 schools.
Nearly one in four teachers in urban schools say that most children “would not be successful at a community college or university.”
Nearly one in three teachers say that most children are not motivated to learn. And when they speak of Latino students in particular they feel that well over half of them are not motivated to learn.
Over one in three teachers are convinced that students in their schools will have difficulty with core academic instruction regardless of strength of instruction.
When you ask them about their own teaching lives the teachers are much more upbeat. Nearly 9 in 10 feel they are preparing students to become productive citizens. The same number say they are currently following in-service opportunities to improve their teaching. 8 in 10 say they look forward to coming to work most days.
In general the responses of the administrators are much more positive and upbeat in regard to the students’ ability and motivation, that which you would expect. Saying otherwise would not reflect well on them. This is of course the major problem with surveys of this nature. Who’s going to tell the truth when the truth might threaten one’s job?
At the end of Greg’s article in USA Today he cites John Mitchell, director of educational issues for the American Federation of Teachers, who says that the survey findings could be largely the result of events that happened in the day or so before the survey. "You go through a lot in a day, and you have days when you feel optimistic and days when you don't."
What is one to make of these surveys? If John Mitchell is right we shouldn’t even do them. I’m sure they’re costly, and why spend the money if what we learn is valid only for a brief moment in time?
For me the single most important variable in the equation representing the education of our children is the child’s/student’s motivation. If as many as one in four teachers admit publicly that this key element is lacking in their students you know that the real number must be much higher.
How many parents want to admit that their children are not motivated in school? And it’s even more true with teachers. To say that most of your students are not motivated is to condemn your own effectiveness as a teacher. Therefore when you ask the teacher the unmotivated ones will always be minority in the classroom.
Just as no one likes to believe that most people don’t vote, no one wants to believe that most of the children in our schools are not motivated to learn.
What if a real, substantial, scientific survey was in fact done (assuming it could be done, which I admit is a big assumption) in order to determine motivation levels of students in our schools? And by that I mean motivation to learn math, language, history, science, not motivation to be in school, play basketball etc., and just hang out with one’s friends.
Does anyone doubt that with the results of that survey we would be forced to rethink and restructure the way we educate our children? Would even the teachers’ unions want to go on defending the status quo if it was clear that most students were not motivated, and that most students were only pretending to learn, just as their teachers were only pretending to teach?