November 6, 2015

Parent teacher conferences are an important touch point for communication in every school. Most of the time is spent discussing a student’s achievements, though for some, attention is paid to areas which require improvement. For many years, at both faculty meetings and presentations to parents I would display a cartoon with two scenes. The first, from the 1950’s (though it could have depicted any time prior to the year 2000) showed two parents holding up a paper with a low mark in front of their son, obviously scolding him. The second scene was from the present day and showed the same parents holding up the low grade and scolding the teacher. The cartoon always drew a laugh, though not so much in recent years. While I do hold that teachers have a level of responsibility to insure that their students are making suitable progress, what constitutes “suitable” and to what degree is the student him/herself responsible?

Having grown up in an earlier time with parents who did not go to college, the responsibility for learning in my case was always my own. The teacher was always right, even on those occasions when he or she was not…at least, to me. Although much has changed since then, especially in the area of pedagogy and our understanding of how the brain functions, I worry at times that when a student struggles, too much emphasis for who is responsible has now shifted to the teacher.

If we are truly to work together as partners in the educational process, we need to locate that appropriate middle ground between where students acknowledge their own responsibilities for learning, and teachers employ a variety of styles/approaches in an effort to achieve a better outcome.
Gill St. Bernard’s is a private, coeducational day school for students age three through grade 12, located in suburban New Jersey. Each of the three school divisions provides a vigorous, meaningful and age-appropriate curriculum, and all students benefit from the environmental learning opportunities that exist on our 208-acre campus.