I don’t know how many times I’ve asked myself and anyone else who was within earshot of me why weren’t my academically at-risk students more successful.  I was doing everything I could except stand on my head and yet some of my student’s still  weren’t getting it. I’ve got professional development coming out of my ears. I’ve  tried to keep my student-centered teaching practice fresh and up to date by including things such as problem based learning, differentiated instruction, assessment for, of and as learning  , computers and other digital technology, student created rubrics  etc., etc., etc. What is preventing students from doing their best?

The conventional wisdom is that  students’ lack of engagement or  distractability in class  is  due to such things as poor preparation, the break down  of society, too much TV, too much time spent on the WWW, etc.  Students seem to be “brain-dead” and need  teaching strategies that are like IV systems that would give students the information they need because they can’t to do it themselves (Parker, 1993 ).  Spoon feeding is the metaphor that comes to mind when I think about the problem. But, Parker (1993) argues  conventional wisdom is mistaken.

Parker notes  poor preparation, the break down  of society, too much TV, etc.  are not the most significant causes for students  lack of engagement or distraction in class. Student fear is responsible for student underachievement.   Students believe  their lives have no meaning, the future has little to offer,  and that adults don’t really care about their problems.    Young people ” have been thoroughly marginalized by the elders of this society, and their deepest response is not an angry rejection of us but a fearful internalization of our rejection of them”(Parker, p.11).   This fear  causes students  to hide behind masks of silence  and indifference.  Parker suggests educators  aren’t even aware that students have this fear. Educators  can’t recognize the fear in students because they don’t recognize the fear in themselves. This fear is  the  fear of rejection by students. Parker admits he doesn’t know any techniques to overcome the fear of rejection,  but he says whenever he sees past his students silence and fear and tries to understand the inner lives of his students,  his students learn more.

I have to agree with Parker when he says when we try to know and understand  the inner lives of students, students  learn more.  In order to get to know the inner lives of students, we need to build authentic  relationships with students.  The bonds of trust that develop between teachers and students within a positive relationship  leads to a more positive classroom climate  and more student success. It’s been my experience that when students feel more accepted for who they are by their teachers, the fear of rejection no longer exists to thwart student success.




The Courage to Teach by Parker J. Palmer




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2 Responses to “Barriers to good teaching”

  1. Litsa on November 25th, 2012 12:35 am

    I have not read Mr Parker’s work, but in a French educational psychologist’s book ‘Psychology & Teaching’ and in another book by a British educational psychologist, they both say that what students value most and drive them more is the teacher’s genuine concern. When and if we have not resolved our own difficult past and the woes we carry from it, we cannot ultimately do the job we want. Thanks for the article.

  2. Elona Hartjes on November 25th, 2012 12:37 pm

    I’ve had students tell me they are not doing the work in a teacher’s class because the teacher doesn’t care about the student.Students need teachers to care. That’s for sure.

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