A recent Op-ed piece in the Washington Post written by retired high school teacher Kenneth Bernstein is making the rounds on various social media channels. I am not surprised that it has resonated with college professors that I interact with online because it is addressed specifically to this group. Bernstein uses the opportunity to vent her frustration regarding the state of high school education and what he sees as the effects of No Child Left Behind. I have never operated under its strictures, but I certainly identify with Bernstein’s experience in the AP classroom and the often defensive posture that teachers assume when questioned by non-educators. In short, I get it and I am sorry to see that it has cost this country another passionate educator.
My frustration with this editorial comes not so much with its content, but in who it is addressed. At the end Bernstein essentially apologizes to college instructors for the quality of students that now populate their classrooms – even in elite schools.
Now you are seeing the results in the students arriving at your institutions. They may be very bright. But we have not been able to prepare them for the kind of intellectual work that you have every right to expect of them. It is for this that I apologize, even as I know in my heart that there was little more I could have done. Which is one reason I am no longer in the classroom.
Whether Bernstein intends it or not such a view reinforces a complaint that I am hearing more and more from friends of mine who teach at the college level. I should point out that I know for a fact that many of my friends are passionate teachers who take their responsibilities in the classroom very seriously. Still, the tweets and Facebook updates that pick out deficiencies among students or the questions that are asked of me directly about the state of secondary education grate on me.
What I want to ask in these moments is what are you doing in the classroom to address this? What kinds of pedagogical practices are you utilizing in the classroom to address specific problems? No research skills? No analytical writing skills? How exactly are you addressing this. The shift from high school to college is no longer a matter of handing students off, but a close continuation and even introduction to certain methodologies and content.
We are all teachers, we are all in the same boat. No apologies necessary.