Image: Trey Ratcliff
Outcomes. It's a word we hear and supposedly consider a lot in our profession as teachers. Results is another (related) one.
When outcomes and/or results fall short of reasonable expectations, whose fault is it?
Given that the classroom space encompasses both teachers and learners, the idea of accountability can be a slippery one. From the teacher's perspective, I'm constantly amazed by how far to either end of the spectrum teachers' explanations for 'failed' educational experiences tend to range.
At one end, I hear this:
Those students only have themselves to blame... I prepared everything well, made sure the instructions were clear, gave them more than enough time to complete work, and I was always available to help if they were willing to ask for it. They chose to do almost nothing, and the result speaks for itself...
I often refer to this as the 'attack is the best form of defense' approach.
And at the other end?
This is all my fault. I haven't tried hard enough to find the materials and activities that will interest them. Learning this is tough enough for them as it is without having to try and make things work with an inexperienced teacher like me. I haven't used the right methods. The failure of this group is totally down to my failure as a teacher...
This is the 'humble to the point of ridiculous' approach.
If you've found yourself saying anything that comes close to either of those interpretations, I would urge you to rethink your reflective practice. Neither of them can ever be completely true, and certainly neither of them turn out to be very effective in terms of turning a teaching/learning dilemma around.
There's also the view that a school or set of regulations are wholly to blame. Perhaps it is the (unhelpful) attitudes and expectations of parents. But again, I don't think they can ever be really wholly to blame and I don't think a focus on 'fixing' them will by itself create any miracle solutions.
The hardest (but I think most accurate) way to look at it is that the classroom is a shared space and experience. Relative success or failure is likewise something to be viewed and acted upon as a shared accountability.
Help the learners see where, when, why and how they might have let themselves down in the learning process, hand in hand with a good hard look at your own teaching. Be willing to criticize the school and the regulators and even the parents, but not without coming to the table with potential solutions and evidence of efforts to try and facilitate them.
And... if you're the sort of teacher who automatically responds with something along the lines of 'but that's their issue to sort out -- not my responsibility!' then just try pulling your head out of your own posterior for a moment or two, would you?
You're supposed to be a teacher.