Sunday, August 8, 2010

Survivors


In the two previous blog posts, I described the first two of the four ‘types’ of teachers; the believers and the tweeners.  Today’s post will look at the survivors.

Survivors are easy to spot and describe; picture someone hanging on to the edge of a precipice; that is the survivor.  On day one of the return to school in August, the survivor will note how many days until the next holiday or pedagogical day.   Their love of teaching is gone and desperation takes its place.  The survivor functions in the ‘flight’ mode of the ‘fight or flight’ fear response.  They will do whatever it takes to make it to the end of the year, week or even day.  The survivors can no longer cope with the difficult demands of the classroom, and for many different reasons, they have given up.  This teacher will bargain with the students for peaceful co-existence, replacing effective teaching with strategies designed to ‘kill time’.  Students can spot the survivor as easily as you can.  They know how to benefit from this bargaining process and can ‘get away’ with things that would be impossible in other classrooms.  The survivor has no political agenda, does not care about the school’s mission and is disengaged from good professional practice because they can no longer deal with the very real stress and pressure of the job.

I think we all have ‘survivor’ days where ‘hanging on’ is all we can manage and we are glad for gadgets and strategies that help us get to the end of the day.  The important difference between these occasional days and the survivor mode is a question of both frequency and values.  Do you believe that your teaching matters?  Do you value student achievement more than your own comfort?  If so, then you are a believer and engaging in survivor type behavior for one day might only mean that you need to regroup, re-examine and reflect on the stresses in your life that find their way into your classroom teaching and your effectiveness.  Your students should not have to pay for your temporary inability to deal with life’s stresses; even though in my experience, I’ve found that students are forgiving and will grant you the space and time to recover from a bad day because they know you care about them.

 Survivors represents a small percentage in the study (less than 2%) but their presence in a school is truly devastating.  On the surface, it would seem that students are not harmed by the survivor’s ineffective teaching and are having fun in the classroom ‘goofing off’.  Not true!  Studies have clearly demonstrated that effective teaching is positively correlated with significant student gain and that this effect is cumulative for over three years.  Good teaching is powerful, makes an important difference in student learning and last for years! The corollary is also true; the ineffective teaching of the survivor diminishes student learning and has a lasting and cumulative effect.  Good teaching helps students; poor teaching hurts them and not just in that one year where they students have that teacher.  After one year with a survivor teacher, a student will need three years of a highly effective teacher to undo the damage done in only one year of ineffective teaching.

The goal is not to demonize the survivor but to draw attention to their plight.  Dr. Muhammad’s study found that survivors are often clinically depressed and need medical attention.  Readers of this blog are probably not survivors and my message to you is to find a way to help the survivors in your school.  After reading Dr. Muhammad’s book and listening to his daylong seminar, I am convinced that the survivor needs treatment and not condemnation.  The administration must do what they can to protect students from the negative and cumulative consequences of survivor teachers.  Ignoring them and their problems will not help the survivor and will hurt the students. 
Next post will be about the fundamentalists and their battle with the believers.  

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