By Adrin Fisher
So, I’ve been thinking about claiming credit.
It seems to me that teachers have a tendency to claim credit when things go well, but to disavow all knowledge when things go sideways. I saw this at my first high school job. Teachers sat at lunch and complained about all the knowledge gaps/bad habits/mistakes those darn middle school teachers had created in OUR students. Then I became a middle school teacher, and guess what? The middle school teachers blamed the elementary teachers with the same vehemence. Nobody is really doing their job. Nobody can teach quite like we can—or quite like I can.
Last week, the parent of one of my former 10th graders told me her daughter’s ACT Reading score. It’s pretty fantastic. “It was all me!” I said with a laugh. “I take total credit for teaching her everything she knows!”
Of course, I was kidding.
How could I possibly take credit for this student’s achievement? She’s been in advanced classes for years. For years, teachers have been pouring their lives into her. Her family has a high expectation of achievement. Her friends are honors students. Her home life, heredity, nurture, and nature—plus the fundamental good luck required in standardized testing (got sleep, felt healthy, ate protein)—all conspired to make the ACT seem like a cake walk.
Who should really claim the credit?
We teachers have been conditioned to believe that we go it alone—to believe that a student’s achievement is our success. After all, we set learning goals and analyze data points and measure mastery. We teach testing tips and we are diligent, checking off the standards as we attack them purposefully. And things can get really competitive. Who did that kid have last year? Oh, that explains everything, we say, and we shake our heads.
But this spirit of teacher-competition has a dark side. It’s where we push back against anyone who doesn’t adopt our preferred program or protocol. It’s where we point fingers at teachers down the hall or in the previous building rather than celebrate students for what they can do—and who they are.
Teachers are not the sole arbiters of learning. Students are not blank slates.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not trying to take anything away from our labor, the very many hours we plan, correct, and prepare outside our contract, the way we facilitate and direct learning all day long. I like to think I had something to do with my former student’s ACT score. I’m proud that she worked hard in my class and I’m confident that I reinforced a lot of skills and taught her a few new ones. But when it all comes down, it’s her claim and her success.
I’m reminding us—I’m reminding me—that our profession gains when we work together, when we share the credit. Obviously, we teachers pour our lives into our students. Obviously, we are not the only ones who do.
Let us not waste our energy competing with one another, teacher-friends.
Let us not focus on making ourselves look good, but rather on helping our students look great.
Let us focus on being the best for the world, rather than trying to be the best in the world.
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Adrin Fisher is a contributing blogger for WVCTE. When she’s not managing lively discussions, modeling assignments or conferencing with budding writers, you can find her talking video games with her kids, walking through the woods, or whipping up a batch of chocolate chip scones. You can follow her on Twitter @fisheradrin