Friday, March 10, 2017

Happy Students Learn More and Happy Teachers Teach Better

I wish I could tell you I thought of that title, but it's a direct quote from Texas superintendent John Kuhn. Don't you wish all superintendents thought that way? Imagine looking toward being productive and helpful rather than vindictive and petty. I know, it's asking a lot, but it's kind of common sense. Of course, there's a Spanish saying that common sense is the least common of all the senses, and I must say I'm a subscriber to that train of thought.

Every day I read articles everywhere on the perfidy of teachers. We don't want to work. We get health benefits and we don't deserve them. Our jobs are easy. We should get rid of all those messy certification requirements and let just anyone do it. Let's judge teachers by test scores. Let's ignore the fact that this is utter nonsense and never, ever question whether the tests are even valid. Let's assume that Moses carried the tests from Mt. Sinai alongside the Ten Commandments. Let's open charter schools because they're all about saving the children. Public schools are dropout factories.

It's tough for us because if you just read these pieces and take them at face value, the arguments appear to not be insane. But when you're in the classroom each and every day, you see things the bureaucrats don't. You see things the papers don't. When some genius in Albany decides that teachers shouldn't grade the tests of their own students it might make sense. After all, if teachers are rated by the tests, they have an incentive to juke the stats.

Now that's true. But why are we being rated by tests when the American Statistical Association says teachers change test scores by a factor of 1-14%? Of course there's that assumption that we're crooks. Now I will freely admit that I want my kids to do well in my classes and on tests. But that only means I'll help. It doesn't mean I'll cheat. Of course, if I were in Albany, where they lower the bar when they want to make politicians look good, and raise it when they want teachers to look bad, I might assume that cheating is rampant. After all, since they cheat as a matter of course, it's only natural that they assume everyone else does too.

Then there's the assumption that teaching is an easy job. You just sit on your ass and watch kids work. Some people say that worked in the 50s, but I don't believe it. Teenagers may wear their hair and clothing differently but they're always teenagers. Me, I would not want to sit unprepared in front of 34 random teenagers and hope for the best. I prepare every day. If I just sat around and handed out worksheets the kids would probably toss me out a window. Not everyone can do this job, no matter what self-styled geniuses like Nick Kristof write in the NY Times. There are very good reasons why half of all new teachers leave in the first five years. In fact, I've seen inspiring and brilliant young teachers walk out of my school, generally a better place to work than many others.

It's not much of a miracle to attain good test scores when you select only students who have proactive parents. Let's take a look at so-called miracle charters. First of all, they are not a default--they require parents to take the step of finding a school and entering a lottery. That in itself sets them apart from the public schools everyone attends. When you add to that the fact that charters can dismiss students who don't attain desired test scores without replacing them, the field becomes even less level. Kids who are dismissed from charters get sent back to public schools, who are then labeled as failures for the scores of those very kids.

What's really amazing is, with all those advantages, charters don't tend to do that much better than public schools. And consider what it would mean even if they did--if you chain kids to their chairs until they pee their pants their test scores can be higher. Who the hell wants to treat children like that just so they can get a few points on some test?

Not me. I believe it's our job to find joy in life and share it with them. I believe that kids should be able to laugh, even if they have to laugh at me. I want my kids to look forward to my class. It doesn't mean that I won't give them tests, but it means they won't necessarily be sitting around in my classroom waiting for the bell to ring, or death, whichever comes first.

John Kuhn is onto something. Someone send the memo to school leaders, up to and including Betsy DeVos. Of course that's a joke. Fanatical ideologues don't believe in joy.

But I do.
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