Students · Teachers

Fault versus responsibility

I would imagine that all jobs entail a series of “unwritten rules” and additional understandings and protocol not listed in the contract. I’m here to respond to complaints that I hear all too frequently from teachers who have already accepted their positions — as both a counter position and a word of caution to those considering entering the profession.

At the end of this past school year, we had planning meetings to set the tone and purpose for the upcoming year. My tardiness to the last meeting led to me not being able to strategically choose my seat or partners — and for those of you who have not delved into the education profession, this is a grave mistake when gathering lots of teachers in a large group. Thus, inevitably, my group’s brainstorming session turned into a gripe session. Being the journalist that I am, I nonchalantly took out my phone to record the following quote:

“It’s our fault that they’re tardy. It’s our fault they aren’t learning. It’s our fault they’re fighting. It’s our fault their [state test] scores are low.”

I held my tongue at the time, as productive discussions are rarely born of such negative fodder, but what I wanted to respond with was, “Well — yeah, it kind of is.”

Kind of. But here’s where the linguist in me will argue semantics to differentiate between fault and responsibility. No, we may not have been the direct cause of the student actions listed above. However, we indirectly contributed to them, and while certain circumstances are outside our locus of control, it is our responsibility as teachers to constantly seek to expand our influence. Responsibility. It is our responsibility to respond to these issues in a positive manner and to do everything we can to prevent them from occurring again. If you don’t believe that these things are your responsibility, I don’t want you in the education system. Far too many problems are born of or exacerbated by shrugging off responsibility onto someone else’s plate. When you are feeling exhausted or unappreciated or helpless, I implore you to ask yourself the following questions before shirking responsibility: if not you, who? If not now, when?

Maybe job postings for teachers need to be clearer. Maybe mandatory classes that supposedly prepare you for a job in education need to make their list of duties more detailed. Maybe the principal who hires you needs to spell it out explicitly. But I repeat: if you are unwilling to take ownership of the behavior of the students in your school as a reflection of your modeling and example, you don’t need to be teaching children.

That might sound harsh, but it’s true. As one of my cousins (who is also a teacher) put it recently, “I’m a teacher, a nurse, a mother, a father, [and] a therapist.” That about sums it up. That is precisely why teachers deserve higher pay, better benefits, and more incentives for going above and beyond the bare minimum call of duty. And the fact that we don’t get these things is why teachers unions, which I addressed in my last post, exist.

But the bottom line remains: these kids ARE your responsibility. Their parents or guardians have entrusted them to you. You will spend more waking hours with them and will see them through their formative years. If you aren’t on board, please don’t accept a teaching position for next year. If you do, you will underserve our kids and bring down the morale of your team. When you sign on the dotted line, you agree to all of the above. That’s the unwritten part of your contract.


B T Bubble Sheet


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s