I’ve been thinking about the term accountability. According to Wikipedia, accountability is defined as: In the acknowledgment and assumption of responsibility for actions, products, decisions, and policies including the administration, governance and implementation within the scope of the role or employment position and encompassing the obligation to report, explain and be answerable for resulting consequences.
These thoughts, some of them may appear random, came to me as I was reading the January 1994 issue of Language Arts. (Yes, I save my professional journals until I’ve read them cover to cover.). Accountability, at least the way it is sometimes used in educational circles, amounts to responsibility, or a duty, obligation or liability for which someone is held accountable. Why didn’t you clean the house? That was your responsibility! (Wikipedia). So, when you are accountable, you are responsible because others are counting on you to complete a task or explain yourself if you don’t. Here’s a random thought: am I accountable for my students or to my students? If I am accountable to my students then I can only answer to them and their parents/guardians, and what happens in the classroom during the single year that they are with me. I cannot be held responsible for what came before or even, to a certain extent, what comes after except in the sense that I’ve successfully taught my students ways to continue their learning in future years. And, even then, this is dependent on whether their current teacher knows how to take advantage of what they know and are able to do. But, how can I be accountable (responsible) for their family situation and condition? However, I can be held accountable to their family situation and condition by being aware of all that they bring into my classroom. In this way, I can be a better teacher to my students. But, how can I be held responsible for the teaching they were exposed to, or even that which they were not exposed to, the previous year? How can I be held responsible for whether or not they have breakfast in the morning or a nutritious snack and lunch when they come to school?
How can I be held responsible for those things over which I have little or no control?
We need to guard against a narrow view of accountability or responsibility that wants to put the blame on teachers for those things over which we have little or no control. Only informed and knowledgeable teachers can take responsibility for the teaching and learning that goes on in their classrooms to help their students progress. Once the specter of fear and threat is removed from the term accountability, then we can get back to what we know how to do best: teach, nurture, and love the children in our care. I feel privileged to be held responsible to that definition of accountability.