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Duhs and Don'ts for
Today's Teachers

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Columnist Linda Starr says troubled kids don't need teachers who understand their problems; they need teachers who set high standards and stick to them -- no matter what.

Here at Education World, the editors maintain a folder that we affectionately refer to as "The Duh File."

Did a university survey find that the dropout rate is lower for students in small schools than for students in large impersonal schools? Did a billion dollar government study reveal that kids who eat a nutritious breakfast learn better than kids who skip breakfast? Dump it in the duh file!

One of my all-time favorite duh-posits, the Impact of Grading Standards on Student Achievement, Educational Attainment, and Entry-Level Earnings, comes from The National Bureau of Economic Research.

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Linda Starr, a former teacher and the mother of four children, has been an education writer for nearly two decades. Starr is the curriculum and technology editor for Education World.


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That report found that kids perform better in school when their teachers set high standards for their performance. Duh!

Of course, what's obvious isn't necessarily easy. Veteran teachers tell me that schools are different today than they used to be. There are more troubled kids, more poor kids, more needy kids, more neglected kids, more damaged kids.

Most of us became teachers because we care about kids; we understand the problems they face. We understand that Paul didn't do his homework because no one was home to see that he did it. We understand that Louisa is lethargic because she didn't get enough sleep. We understand that Eddie can't concentrate because his home life is chaotic. Understanding is our nature -- and our curse.

Teaching, however, is our job. If we're to do that job well, we cannot let understanding lead to leniency or permit frustration to induce surrender. We can't say to troubled students, "I understand that it's too hard." However difficult it is, we must say, "I understand that you have to try harder."

It's a fact. Children with supportive parents do better than children whose parents are disinterested. Well-nourished children do better than hungry children. Students in small classes do better than students in large classes. Students with special needs do better when schools and communities have the resources to meet those needs.

But, whatever their individual circumstances, all students do better when their teachers set the bar high -- and expect them to reach for it. Duh.

I have a bumper sticker on my bulletin board at home that reads, "When all else fails, lower your standards." It's supposed to be a joke. Don't make it your motto.