Pass or Fail: Eliminating ‘Teacher-Pleasing’ Practices

In this multi-part series, I provide a dissection of the phenomenon of retention and social promotion. Also, I describe the many different methods that would improve student instruction in classrooms and eliminate the need for retention and social promotion if combined effectively.

While reading this series, periodically ask yourself this question: Why are educators, parents and the American public complicit in a practice that does demonstrable harm to children and the competitive future of the country?

How much of what a teacher does in a day is with the student in mind – and how much of it is to fit his or her own teaching agenda?

In The Exceptional Teacher, a study on transforming traditional teaching through thoughtful practice, Elizabeth Aaronsohn discusses some “traditional” teaching models and approaches to teaching: “I define traditional teaching as teaching in which the focus is on the content, about which the teacher is understood to be an expert, and which must be ‘covered’ in such a way as to ensure that students acquire a certain body of knowledge based on the activity of watching and listening to the teacher.”

Aaronsohn goes on to define what she considers the problems of this teaching mode, the habits that are teacher-pleasing, beginning with an analysis of teacher-pleasing as a theoretical framework. The contention is clearly that teachers are not encouraging students to learn for themselves, to think, or to analyze the material. Rather, the focus of teacher-pleasing is memorization and rote learning designed to secure good grades.

“Children in school learn well, and very early, that grades are the teachers’ ultimate power over them,” Aaronsohn contends, adding that this tends to make students do what they need to do to get a good grade. They cookie-cut their learning to fit within the parameters of what their teachers want rather than what would be beneficial to them in the long run.

Aaronsohn also argues that traditional teachers seem primarily concerned with having students memorize the right answers, demonstrate proper grammar, and focus on correct form rather than devote time to the development of original ideas, either in classroom discussion or student writing. This is where traditional teaching fails the student because this approach simply encourages children to do what they need (and often only what they need) to survive in school.

Too often the unspoken goal of traditional teaching is simply to escape retention or social promotion by keeping grades above failing. The management of classroom learning to provide different modes of teaching for different types of students should be a major area of research.

One of the shortcut learning tricks displayed by many students being taught under traditional methods is the practices such as not reading an entire assigned text, but simply listening carefully to the teacher’s comments because of the certainty that only they would be tested. Another trick is “playing the system,” which entails skipping the reading entirely and allowing teachers to “spoon-feed” the content they intend to test.

All of these are shortcuts that students have evolved from learning the game the traditional K-12 system – and what teachers need to push back against. Understanding how to engage students beyond what the teacher may have written in a lesson plan is tricky but important to reaching this current generation of students.

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