Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Some Observations on Twenty Years of Observations

I ran across an old folder the other night, stuffed between tons of lesson plans.  It was a file of my NYC observation reports.  

My first observation is dated Oct. 26, 1992.  Funny, I don't remember the crafting of that particular lesson or its observation now.  But the report makes it as clear as day.  Apparently, I was teaching about the role of knights in the Middle Ages.  I introduced the lesson with a poem (perhaps, from a woman troubadour) and utilized C'est Moi from Camelot.  Reading over this dusty observation report, I found myself pleasantly pleased with my younger self.  C'est moi!  C'est moi!   'Tis I!

Here it is:

My second observation report is dated a month later, November 19, 1992.  Here, I read the tale of a young teacher, prepped to go and caught off guard by a fire drill, all while trying to find some way to relate Martin Luther to her students.  I chose Malcolm X for the Do Now.  Apparently, the film "X" had been released recently.

Today, I would use a different "Do Now" in my global class.  I have a completely different audience.  But I know why I chose it.  I was searching for some way to draw the students into the content.  Malcolm X worked, although apparently it worked too well and went on for far too long.

The third observation report was dated December 10, 1992.  Again, I found myself pleasantly surprised.  I managed to have a New York Times article from the previous day ready to go for a lesson on the Supreme Court.  It appears the lesson might have been better organized, but all the component parts were present.

Shortly after this last report, as fate would have it, I found myself "excessed."  I ended up at a new school.  I have remained there for over twenty years.  Now, in place of the old grades of S for satisfactory and U for unsatisfactory, I get numbers that equate to levels of effectiveness.  Despite common sense and logic, it is quite possible with the new formulas that I might become less effective with time.  All that needs happen is tests get harder or my students study less.

Do I need to say I miss the old system?  Given the new reports, teachers are being dissected alive.  When I examine the report, I don't get a sense of my lesson until I make it to the third and final page.  In my old reports, I had the sense I was part of a family or a community; that same community of my first school has since been willfully ripped apart by educational "reformers."  I am part of a new community today, but one would guess from these mandated reports that I am little more than a living, breathing statistic.

This last page was the most useful.  It seems largely equivalent to the reports of old.  I pity overworked supervisors, given this new system of observation which seems unworthy of the incredible time and effort spent upon it.  I am glad I did not become a supervisor.

The above observation was formal.  It was planned in advance.  It lasted for an entire period.  Although I opted for the shorter snapshots this year, it was only to ease the pain of the observation cycle.  If I was a new teacher, there is no doubt in my mind that I would benefit most from full period observations.  Then, one could see if the Do Now is too long, if I actually make it to the summary, the cohesion of my lesson, the totality of its glory or abject failure.  

This new system treats seasoned professionals as really no different from the newbie, just learning the trade.  Tenure has come to mean less and less.  Thanks to ed. deform, the dignity of teachers is slowly stripped away.  Teachers are asked to prep for standardized tests more than awaken young minds.  And, if some would have their way, tenure would be pulled out from underneath our feet.  The apprentice and master craftsman would walk in the same shoes.  

Then, at the end of the year, I get year-end reports.  Here is one from the year I completed my probationary service.  In addition to the excerpt below, it included additional remarks, noting six observations by my A.P. and four observations by my principal.  The reverse of the form was completed, as it related to probationary personnel and I was awarded an S.

Guess what?  After I was awarded my tenure, having survived a trial by fire, I didn't decay.  I continued to grow.  But I was greatly relieved to be a trusted professional, no longer under the most careful and time-consuming mandated scrutiny of my superior officers.  No longer!

My year-end APPR statistically-based, scientifically-approved measure last year looks something (exactly) like the image below.  Forty points are determined by students' test scores.  How helpful is this report to me?  How does it compare to the observation reports of twenty years ago?  I was once S.  Now, I'm "Effective."  Sorry for you, if you're an "ed. deformer."  You probably are not satisfied with anything more than an ineffective rating.  Looks like no one's happy now. 

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