Teachers complain. They complain a lot. No, really. You can’t imagine the things teachers say about students, colleagues, administrators, parents, and everyone else. After more than three decades of hearing it, I may nod, but it is like white noise to me; with one exception. When I hear, “I taught it, but they didn’t learn it” I pay attention. I want to know who said it; I want to remember that person and I accept the challenge they unknowingly made to me to help them better understand what it means to teach.
I also want to interrupt them and let them know they have underestimated their students. Humans (even the ones in your classroom) are curious creatures; they are learners. The students about which you complain may not have learned what you wanted them to learn as quickly as you wanted them to or they may have forgotten it.
There is, of course, an enigma in this situation. We know that learning requires effort, so if students don’t learn what they were taught, their teacher might be justified in assuming it is because they did not exert the required effort. They may have been told the information they were expected to learn, and they may have had that information told to them in a well-organized manner with a slide show that included learning objectives and even a study guide at the end, but still they did not learn. I argue that what passes for teaching does not usually lead to learning, so the teacher is likely to blame when “I taught it, but they didn’t learn it.”
We should not be concerned with assigning blame, however. That only ensures the next cohort of students will also be taught but not learn, because the blameless party (be they teacher or students) may continue as they did previously. In general, students do need to be more engaged and active in their learning; but this requires curriculum and instruction be delivered in a much different manner than it typically is. Implementing this change is completely the responsibility of teachers… well, teachers and the instructional and academic leaders in the school… and I would add the technology leaders as well.