Monday, February 23, 2015

Teacher Morale Under Danielson--Between a Rock and a Reformy Place

I get a lot of email from teachers all over, and have done since I placed the email address for this blog on the blog. Unfortunately that address is bloated with spam and solicitations to sell space and hype crap, so it takes me a while to get to it. I also hear from people I actually know all over the city on a fairly regular basis. Being on social media, though, I hear from teachers all over the city in private messages.

I tell people to go to their chapter leaders and they are terrified. They don't trust the chapter leaders. I send them to their district reps and they are sometimes equally afraid. It's pretty rough out there.

Danielson gives us all rules to live by. I've written before that I'm not as down on Danielson as are some of my colleagues. I actually like her notion of what is a highly effective classroom. It's pretty amazing when kids will get up and take charge of their education. I have seen it happen, but I can't count on it happening every day. Of course even if it does I can be dragged down by junk science test scores, but that's another issue.

The real problem is the assumption that, just because there is a rubric, there is fairness. What if your kids eagerly volunteer but your 12-year-old supervisor says they did not? You haven't got a whole lot of options when it's your word against the supervisor. You could videotape it, I suppose, but I always think of the sports commentators saying, "Let's go to the videotape." Should you have a vindictive or small-minded supervisor who wishes to focus on the petty rather than the substantial, that supervisor will overlook absolutely nothing negative, whether or not it merits mention. You may be perfect, but I'm not, and I wouldn't want to go to the videotape forever to observe my shortcomings, whatever they may be.

You know the old saying, garbage in garbage out? I'd say a rubric is only as good as the person who manipulates it. There are great supervisors, and God bless you if you have one. If you don't, life can be pretty tough under the rule of Charlotte Danielson. You can certainly argue that a crazy supervisor could have trashed you under the old system. But the stakes weren't quite as high. This system is NOT designed to encourage or support us. It was championed by Bill Gates, and by Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo is now dissatisfied with it because he doesn't see enough negative ratings. This places pressure on supervision to find things wrong where there may or may not actually be any. I'm surprised at what I'm hearing now from some very smart people I've known for years. I haven't actually seen them teach, but it's very hard for me to imagine such thoughtful individuals NOT being great teachers.

There is, of course, the validator who observes teachers rated ineffective, but there is no advantage in that at all. The best you can win from a validator is a good old traditional 3020a in which the DOE has to prove you are incompetent. However, should the validator decide you do indeed suck, you will be placed in the position of having the burden of proof on you, and you will have to prove you are NOT incompetent. That's a high bar indeed. It may not be insurmountable, but it's pretty damn close. And all due respect, but I would never take a job that entailed hurting working teachers like that, not for 15K a year, not for 150K a year, and I do not, frankly, trust anyone who would.

Teacher morale is now somewhere below the proverbial toilet. I implore people to fight Cuomo, and I will join leadership and others in doing so everywhere I can. But the message I'm getting from a lot of people is this--how can I worry about Cuomo when I'm under assault at my very workplace?

It's a very tough question to answer. It's something leadership should have their collective eye on. It kind of makes me feel bad that I, like everyone who questions UFT leadership, am iced out and have no voice whatsoever in the direction of my union. For reasons not entirely clear to me, I'm incapable of the cynicism and apathy that pervades our ranks.

But I certainly understand it.
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