Thursday, May 14, 2015

Calling Veteran Teachers "Developing"

Mark Naison posted on this a few days ago, and got me thinking. Imagine teaching for twenty years and get labeled "developing." That's a pretty demoralizing prospect. Then, the question becomes whether or not you deserve it. Is it possible I've sucked all these years and no one has bothered to let me know? If that's the case, is it my fault? Weren't people supposed to tell me? What do they pay those supervisors for anyway?

Worse, I guess, would be if I didn't suck and some supervisor were telling me I did. Fortunately, we now have a Danielson rubric which specifically tells us what does and does not suck. So now, we can sit down with our supervisors and find out. You did this, and it did not suck. But this other thing you did, it sucked a lot.

Here's the thing, though. What sucks and does not suck is often in the eye of the beholder. For example, your supervisor might say that 29 students participated and that did not suck. Or, he may turn around and say 2 students did not participate and that sucked indeed. It doesn't really matter that it's 29 to 2. To suck or not to suck, that is the question, and your supervisor is the omniscient and all-powerful Oracle, empowered to decide precisely just how much you suck.

The essential problem with this system, you see, is not whether or how frequently your supervisor tells you you suck, nor why you suck, nor how much you suck, nor how accurately said supervisor gauges your relative suckiness. The essential problem is the system itself. It is certainly not designed to support or improve teaching. It is designed expressly to fire teachers, or conditions under which to do so would not be written into this law. In fact, the only reason Cuomo pushed for a new law is because teachers were not being fired with sufficient frequency. After all, why did all those hedge funders donate millions of dollars to his campaign if he can't actively ruin lives and careers?

And here is another thing about this system--Michael Mulgrew can stand up all day long and praise it. He can cite stats about how few teachers got negative ratings. He can even ignore those who actually have negative ratings as though they don't exist (and I'd like to see you try to defend this system to them, Punchy Mike). The truth is no working teacher likes this system. Not the ones who suck, not the ones who don't, not the ones falsely accused of sucking, and not even the ones who suck without being recognized as such. And if you poll the supervisors who aren't insane, you'll find they don't like it either. If some teacher doesn't suck, and no kids complain about that teacher, and the supervisor observes a healthy culture in that room, why does that supervisor have to visit another three times to see the same thing? Wouldn't that supervisor's efforts be better spent actually helping a teacher who needs the help?

It's degrading to label people developing, and it's particularly egregious if your 15-minute drive by does so in error. Maybe it was a bad moment. Maybe it was a good moment and you didn't recognize it. Maybe you don't understand the rubric you're using. Maybe you've been supervising for 20 years and are traumatized because no one's ever asked you to write anything before. Who knows?

What every teacher knows is this is a "gotcha" system. It's demoralizing to absolutely everyone, no matter what the ratings say. And Andrew Cuomo's Heavy Hearts Club Band just wrote a song that makes it even worse.

That's not how a society that values its children treats their teachers.
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