This fall, I will begin my 25th year of teaching in Utah's public schools.
In the past few years I have come to realize that the main problem with our education system today is not what is taught, where it is taught, by whom it is taught or how it is taught. The main problem with education today is students who refuse to work. It is the students in a Seventh grade English class who were given three days in class to write an essay. At the end of the three days only 12 of 27 students had completed the assignment and turned it in.
It is the students in a science class where the teacher finally stopped giving students work to complete at home because very few of them bothered to do it. Instead, she began giving students time in class to complete all assignments. Over a third of her students failed because they refused to work in class. It is the students taught by the kindergarten teacher sitting next to me at my caucus meeting this spring who said that having 26 students in her classes would work if the students would simply do the class work she gave them instead of complaining, "This is too hard."
It is the students in my math classes who, when I showed them how to work a multiple step problem, called out, "I'm not doing that; it's too much work." It is the students who "complete" and turn in every assignment and still score less than 30 percent on the test covering that material because they are not the ones who actually did the work they turned in.
There has been a huge emphasis on evaluating and improving teachers. I fear that will have little effect on student learning. No matter how good or bad a teacher is, if the students are not involved in their own education, they will not learn. On the other hand, a student who is willing to participate and work can learn from any teacher.
There has been a huge cry for more technology in the schools. Just having a computer available for each student will not improve student learning if the students assume that the computer will do all of the work and they can remain passive.
There has been much controversy about the new Common Core that will be taught in Utah this coming year. I doubt very much that it will make any difference because, once again, changing the specific items in the core or changing the method in which they are taught is not the answer if the students refuse to participate and work.
The problems of public education are a societal problem — a society that no longer values individual work ethic and a society that wants to place the responsibility for education on what is taught, how it is taught and by whom it is taught, instead of on the students who are responsible for learning.
Education will continue to struggle in this state and country until society remembers that true education requires two parties: a person who teaches and a person who is willing to work and participate in the learning process.
Teresa Talbot has been a teacher in Utah for 24 years.