Wednesday, January 14, 2015

No One Is Happy

An assistant principal said that to me the other day. I was saying that teachers are constantly under pressure, facing constant evaluation no matter what. The AP countered with the pressures on an AP. I suppose having to do 200 evaluations a month, or whatever the hell it is, can be daunting. I'm certainly glad I don't have to tell people they did this or that ineffectively.

Nonetheless, even teachers receiving effective ratings are unhappy. There's a cloud hanging over our heads, a cloud by the name of Danielson, and it's not going anywhere in the foreseeable future. I haven't really determined whether the 8 domains is better than the 22.  But even if it's the bestest thing ever, it's really kind of daunting to know that no matter how highly effective you are rated they need to keep checking up on you.

Arwen had a great column comparing the old observations and the new ones, and I think most who read it concluded that this largely incomprehensible checklist nonsense represents no improvement whatsoever. Sadly, I have no faith that a crazy supervisor will listen to the voices of your students any more carefully than he listens to those in his head. Also, I think it's preposterous to attempt to remove human error. By doing so, you kind of remove the human element altogether. Arwen used Hawthorne's The Birthmark to illustrate that, and I learned more from that story than I ever expect to learn from Danielson.

This clarion call for standardization is also evident in the demand for rubrics. I hate rubrics. I have hated them ever since I started grading the English Regents that contained them. I got a feel for what they were looking for and I was able to grade them fairly easily. A former colleague of mine got all bogged down in checking the rubrics and I would grade a class set while she was struggling with paper number three.

But I know what I want from student writing. I want kids to address the question. I want them to be careful. I want them to check their writing for errors. I want them to show me they actually care about what they've written, and if they don't, I want them to act like they do anyway. I want them to spell writing with one t. I want them to use structures I've taught them correctly, and ultimately I want them to express their own ideas with clarity and precision. As I teach beginning ESL students, the last goal will take them a little more time.

As for what supervisors want from us, it's tough to say. Is there really such a thing as low inference notes? Can we really keep our feelings out of our observations? Is it a good thing if we do? Feelings are important. For example, I want my students to be happy. I want them to enjoy my class. I want them to know they can speak freely and no one will make fun of their English or discourage them in any way.

I'm fortunate in that I feel only the normal amount of apprehension about this system that loudly announces, "I don't trust you," in every element of its origin and composition. But I know a teacher who I met as a young woman who's been beaten down into the ground by this. She's terrified. She no longer loves to come to work. And she's representative of a lot of teachers I meet and speak with. The only real advantage I have over her is that I lack the common sense to be terrified.

Unlike David Coleman, I really, really want kids I serve, kids I help, kids I love, to be happy. I absolutely give a crap how they feel, even if the father of the Common Core thinks no one does. In fact, that's probably more important than whether or not their subjects and verbs agree. Now I will deny that if you repeat it in front of my students. I hope they're happy anyway.

But no one else seems to be. And whether David Coleman thinks so, whether John King thinks so, whether anyone who runs this system or our union thinks so, that is a fundamental problem.

If we want to have a productive and worthwhile education system, we need to fix it.
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