Whose faulquestion markt is it when students fail to achieve?   Some like the eight out of nine school trustees in the Houston Independent School District think  that it’s the teachers’ fault when students fail to achieve and plan to fire them.  Others think that it’s the parents’ fault when children fail in school because of poor parenting skills or because parents don’t spend enough time with their kids. Still others blame the media or the students’ peer group or the kids themselves for their failure.

I’ve been teaching academically at-risk teens for well over 25  years now, and I can tell you the reason why kids fail at school is a complex one.  Kids fail to achieve in school for any number of reasons.  It’s easy to point the finger of blame at teachers, at the administration, at the school system,  at  parents or at kids   themselves when they  fail to achieve to their potential.

The  school trustees who think it’s the teachers’ fault when students fail to achieve are misguided. Yes, perhaps some teachers need support to help improve their teaching practice.  I’m not denying that. But some parents also need support to improve their parenting skills, and  some students also need support to help them take ownership for their own learning. The education system itself needs some major changes so that schools offer the programs that better meet the needs of all students.   Kids also need to realize they have to take responsibility for their learning.

We probably all have heard the statement ” it takes the  entire village to raise a child”.  Well, it takes the entire village to educate one  as well. We need to stop blaming.  Blaming doesn’t help. Instead we need to ask  what can the villagers do, what support can they give  to all the stakeholders so that  kids can succeed at school.  After all,  the village will benefit if it’s kids live up to their potential. The way I see it is that the village supports kids when they are young, and then the kids support the village when they grown up. It’s a win-win situation.

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25 Responses to “Whose fault is it when students fail to achieve?”

  1. Cool Links #73: The One About The Crazy Week « TEACH J: For Teachers of Journalism And Media on January 15th, 2010 12:04 am

    […] – Teachers At Risk blog has a poignant post with this missive on student failure.  Here in Texas, the Houston ISD is looking to punish teachers when students don’t make the […]

  2. Mirjan Krstovic on January 15th, 2010 8:29 pm

    Hi Elona,

    I started reading your blogs, and I also created a blog of my own…not sure if you remember me, but we met a few months ago at the Board, and you showed me your blogs…I read you blog on what you thought about the purpose of high school education, and I reflected on your response in my own blog. This blog is making me think again! You are right when you say that the issue of kids failing is a complex one! No doubt! And, I just want to make one comment here that goes along with what you wrote about “blame” – true leaders do not blame anyone; they always try to make things better! It is very easy to blame, complain and avoid responibility. The new age of education requires that we become more interdependent as educators, rather than be solo artisans.
    .-= Mirjan Krstovic´s last blog ..Midnight Reflections When You Can’t Sleep =-.

  3. Elona Hartjes on January 15th, 2010 9:50 pm

    I do remember you and the wonderful discussion we had at the focus group meeting. I’m delighted that you started your own blog. I look forward to reading it. I do like your suggestion that we become more interdependent as educators, rather than solo artisans.

  4. Timothy on February 19th, 2010 11:17 am

    You can make all the flowery, high-minded excuses you want to for these students, but the truth is that most of them have become pop-culture automatons with no depth of character. They do not care about being educated because it takes work to become so. These students want an easy life and they want it now. Rights and entitlements rise to the surface of their arguments every time they are called out on anything. They jump at the chance to blame some hard-working teacher even when they know full well their failure is their own.

  5. Shelly on February 24th, 2010 6:17 pm

    This is a very frustrating topic. I am a first year teacher working with at risk teenagers. I graduated from high school only 7 years ago but things are so different. The students never get homework, they never do thier work in class (I always pick up blank papers), they are not issued school books because they cant be trusted with them. The teachers try and come up with exciting lessons and the students either ignore them or curs them out. Every day I see teachers trying thier hardest and students just not caring. It is very hard for me not to blame the students from the things I have seen.

  6. Elona Hartjes on February 24th, 2010 7:26 pm

    It is frustrating. I just keep trying and celebrate small successes.

  7. kontan on March 6th, 2010 10:04 am

    Glad to read this post. I am feeling rather defeated lately. My current students are failing miserably and I am at a loss as to what to do. I’ve never faced this level of failure before, and I’ve never dealt with this level of apathy before. It is very difficult to avoid taking it personally.

  8. Find A Babysitter on June 14th, 2010 12:48 am

    Let’s admit it. Some teachers are better than others. But that’s no excuse for a student to fail. People will always react diffently to similar situations, same philosophy applies here. Same teacher (good or bad)/same class and there will always be students who fail and others who will succeed.

  9. Elona Hartjes on June 14th, 2010 5:31 am

    That’s true.

  10. Nathan on July 5th, 2010 5:47 pm

    It’s great to say “We need to stop blaming” — but don’t forget, grades have real world consequences. If a student gets a bad grade, she carries that with her throughout her academic career. So surely someone is to blame for the consequences she will experience.

    If there’s a desire to avoid “blaming”, then perhaps we should first start with re-evaluating the process of assigning and the consequence of receiving grades.

  11. Elona Hartjes on July 5th, 2010 8:36 pm

    I suppose a student does carry a bad grade with her in the senior and post secondary years and perhaps she carries the bad grade with her as it affects her confidence and self esteem. I agree with you when you say we should reevaluate our evaluation and reporting process. Why after all this time, cant we get it right?

  12. Marilyn on November 12th, 2010 2:06 pm

    Yes children need to be motivated to learn. People in general need to be motivated to want to do anything. Yes, some parents need to be more involved. However, now days, more than ever, we have teachers that just don’t care and others that just can’t teach. They think that just because they know the material and have the degree that they are teachers but they are not because they can not convey the information to the students in a way they can understand and therefore retain it. They have forgotten that students are a reflection of their teaching ability. If Hellen Keller who was deaf,blind and mute can learn, then anyone can learn. There is no such thing as a student who can’t learn;only “teachers” who can’t teach. That is why the teachers get most of the blame. As parents, it is our responsibility to support the teacher by reinforcing what she taught by checking homework and helping children understand the areas that they seem unsure in. My son received a low score in math and I didn’t get even one phone call, e-mail or text saying that he had failed 2 exams. I am a stay at home mom and pick my kids up daily. I always ask the teacher how was my son’s day and they say “fine” or “good”. When I saw his math score I was completely floored because I am always at the school. In previous years I was the president of the Parents Association and has gone on nearly every field trip. I am definately not an absentee or unavailable parent. Only a few weeks prior, I was there when my son presented a report in another subject with that same teacher, who said even then nothing about his struggle with mathamatics. The report he had done was completely optional. We had gone (on a Sunday) under invitation of this same teacher to a parade which had many Native Indian tribes. We took pictures of native dances and costumes etc. I am a hands on mom and would not hesitate to help my son understand any lesson. So why would this teacher just let him slip through the proverbial cracks without so much as a phone call? To me that is very unacceptable. This is a story I’m hearing a lot, unfortunately.

  13. Elona Hartjes on November 14th, 2010 8:55 am

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I can appreciate how frustrated you are. As I have said on many occasions, teachers and parents need to work together as a team for the best interests of students. I’m not excusing anything but without knowing all the details, it seems to me that the teacher needs some type of support/encouragement to help him or her do the best he or she can for sutdents. Have you talked to the teacher? Have you talked to the principal? The principal can mentor the teacher to help the teacher do his or her best for students. Dialogue is very, very important.

  14. Robin Thomas on January 30th, 2011 3:29 pm

    No doubt there are a few bad teachers, but I’ve been at it for a long time, and I believe that the students themselves are the biggest obstacle to learning. As someone stated above, they refuse to do homework, they refuse to do classwork, they are disrespectful, obsessed with electronics….I could go on and on but I won’t.

  15. Heide Levine on February 2nd, 2011 1:57 pm

    I stumbled across your blog and I am a post-secondary instructor. We teach a course called Strategies For Success that address this topic and many other road blocks to success. One of the things mentioned is a saying ‘We act on the truth as we believe it to be, and not on the truth as it is.’ This is true for all people, it’s our filter on the world.

    It goes on to elaborate about 2 children.

    One comes home from school and is greeted by a caregiver who asks what went on, who sits down and does homework with the child, and is involved in all directions. Who praises the good stuff, and consoles the negative.

    The other child comes home to an empty house, or the caregiver IS home but asks nothing, does nothing, and this child is left to their own choice of video games, TV, or homework/school work. The caregiver is neither positive nor negative, simply silent. What do you think this childs choices will be?

    As the years go on this way what do you think begins to happen between these 2 children? What kind of success do you think these children will display?

    It is likely that child B will ‘believe’ they are unsuccessful, incapable, and therefore ‘can’t learn’… This is the ‘truth’ this child will begin to tell themselves. They will do whatever it takes to ‘correct’ any ‘mistakes’ that contradict that belief.

    Tell me? When a child who is a straight D student in a class gets an A? They freak out and celebrate with a blush and maybe disbelief right? What happens for the next tests? I’ll bet if you back up in the records you’ll see a string of failures. See the ‘A’ was a ‘mistake’… and they must correct it because it doesn’t fit their belief of themselves. This will go on for years because it is not actually conscious, it’s on auto pilot.

    Remember, kids who believe they are ‘failures’, who are abused, or neglected will do whatever it takes to ‘prove’ you will fail them too. They will test you for abandonment, they will curse, ‘forget’ homework, refuse to comply… You name it… Whatever works to get you to ‘fail’ them too, because it’s going to happen sooner or later, they just ‘know it’.

  16. Jay L. Stern on August 23rd, 2011 1:08 am

    I teach biology and chemistry, mainly. This year I’m going to teach chemistry again. I love teaching chemistry. Last year I taught general science and one bio class. 63% of my students had under a 2.0 GPA. No less than 24 had 0.0 GPA. Tonight I’ve been checking the GPA for the kids I’m going to be teaching starting in September. The grades for 25 of them are available to me; the other 175 will be posted in the next few days. These kids are all “repeats.” They are in the 9th grade although some are already 18. They had biology last year from three other teachers at our school, beside me. The grades were just about all FUU. Now, they are being put in chemistry! I don’t have high expectations for the classes as a whole — and that is based on their performance — but this group of 25 in particular is really weak. Several have been suspended two or three times, for offenses ranging from severe profanity to robbery and threatened assault. I’ve got some wonderful lessons planned. I hope I can get enough student buy-in to tempt them!

  17. Elona Hartjes on August 23rd, 2011 6:29 am

    You really have your work cut out for you. I took a peak at your website sternscience.blogspot.com and saw how you try to make the content of your course accessible to kids. Congratulations. That takes committment and imagination. If I can make a comment myself, when I work with students similar to the ones you have described I work hard to develop a relationship with them, but of course you probably already do that. Good luck.

  18. unique jones on November 29th, 2011 5:37 pm

    i dont get it middle school gotta do a report on y do teachers fail students on purpose what other websites can i go on and whats another way to word what im trying to ask?

  19. Elona Hartjes on November 29th, 2011 8:28 pm

    Hi ujones,
    Why do teachers fail kids on purpose? What kind of question is that! I’ve never thought about that question. I’m thinking if a kid handed work in that was not her own then the kid could get a failing mark or if a kid didn’t hand in work at all then a kid could get a failing mark. I have never heard of a teacher failing a kid on purpose just because. In those cases the kid is failing herself by what she did or didn’t do. I know kids sometimes say the teacher failed me because she doesn’t like me, but if you investigate a bit you’ll see the student didn’t do homework to prepare for quizzes or tests, or didn’t do work according to teachers instructions. It’s easy to say I failed because the teacher didn’t like me. It looks like it’s the teacher’s fault and not the students when in fact it’s the students fault.

    Hope this helps. If you have any othe questions, just ask. I’d be delighted to help.

  20. Programs for youth at risk on February 12th, 2012 5:50 am

    In my years of teaching students I have discovered that most students fail because they study the wrong thing.. And they lack interest with either the teacher or the subject. Other students fail because their parents fail them.
    Programs for youth at risk´s last blog post ..At Risk Youth Programs, Troubled Youth Camps, Schools and Services

  21. Samuel on May 28th, 2012 1:27 pm

    Blaming the stakeholders won’t solve the problem of mass failure. However, a deep look into the changes in our society and the world at large may be a pointer to the solution.
    I will rather enjoin the school, parents and students to utilise d unavoidable change to foster learning. Learning can be infused into some of our social networks and instead of them serving as sources of modern distractions, will be beneficial instructional resources.

  22. Throw my hands up on October 21st, 2012 5:53 pm

    I will ask this. If numerous children are failing your class at what point do you self reflect that maybe you need to teach differently. As a parent I’ve spent hours helping my son study ( daily) this one class is his only failing grade all other classes are A’s and B’s. What approach should I take with the teacher/ school?

  23. Elona Hartjes on October 21st, 2012 6:59 pm

    Throw up my hands,
    Have you spoken to the teacher about your child’s difficulties in class. I believe teachers and parents should work together to help students do the best they can, and I invite parents to work together with me to help their child do his or her best. Lots of different things could be going on to affect your child’s progress in that specific class. I can’t really make any specific suggests because I don’t know the specific details. I know blaming doesn’t help. Working together cooperatively does.

  24. Teacher in AZ on November 8th, 2012 5:08 pm

    Elona, thanks for your blog. As a teacher I have asked myself many times how often the failure of my students is a reflection on me and my teaching or on another influence. I completely agree that education is a shared responsibility of all the stakeholders. While I understand where you are coming from when you state that “blaming” one group does not solve anything, at some point the source of the problem needs to be assessed and fixed.

    Imagine this scenario…I am trying to lose weight but I just can’t. I don’t understand the problem; I get enough sleep, I am active throughout the day, I eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, I workout consistently and I eat McDonald’s three times a day, yet I haven’t lost a pound.

    Without finding the “blame” in the equation I will never lose weight. Just like without finding the blame in the child’s educational experience will lead to the student continuing to fail. The answer of getting “exercise and McDonald’s” to work together will not solve the problem. Unfortunately, finding blame in a student’s education, and then addressing that issue, is necessary to truly make that student successful in school and life.

  25. Elona Hartjes on November 8th, 2012 5:38 pm

    I guess I would use the word responsibility instead of blame.

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