Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Mrs. Grundy Was a Great Facilitator

When we think back to our best teachers, there are a lot of things that we never mention. For example, it's been frequently pointed out that no one ever says, "Gee, I loved Mr. Educator's class because he helped me pass that standardized test." And despite that, standardized tests now pretty much control everything and everyone. I know perfectly competent teachers who've had their ratings dragged down by tests. Two years in a row, and those teachers would be toast. We don't need programs to protect "outliers." We need programs that make sense in the first place so we don't create them.

Another thing kids never say is, "Gee, my old teacher was a fantastic facilitator. She sure knew how to put us in groups." And of course, you never will. Oddly, Danielson thinks it's vital. Maybe if I put all my SIFE kids together, they'll teach one another everything they're missing in L1. Maybe if you put your beginning ESL students with native-born kids, they'll instantly learn English and say, "Thank you for grouping me with kids fluent in a language I don't understand at all." Probably not, though, and I've never heard a single kid whisper those words.

They will probably not express gratitude for the extra PDs you sat through either. Even though you went to every single UFT-sponsored PD on everything, and even though you gave a workshop in DOK, the kids will never say, "Thank you for attending and sponsoring all those workshops. They certainly made you highly effective." They will never say, "Boy that lesson you gave on enzymes and hormones was really engaging." You won't hear a lot of, "Now I understand the War of 1812 better than ever." In fact, you're unlikely to even get a, "Thank you for that bell to bell instruction."

There are just so many things they won't thank us for, although Charlotte Danielson thinks they're important. Worse, though, are the things we actually do that Charlotte Danielson doesn't care about. What about the time you followed that chronically absent girl, waded through every phone number you could find, the ones the school didn't have, and actually got her off the 4 AM job delivering Newsday, the one for which her Grandma paid her nothing, and managed to get her back into school? What about the kids who had never read a book before, the ones who thanked you for making them do it? What about the ones you took extra time with, the ones you got to pass classes you yourself didn't even teach?

There are so many things teachers do. It's preposterous to think that they could be codified in a rubric, let alone that crazy supervisors won't take liberties, misinterpret, and or outright lie about what happens in the classrooms of those with whom they are not comfortable. For all we know, there are people who are comfortable with no one. That could well be the sort of feeling that drives someone out of the classroom and up where he can do even more damage.

I have never loved a teacher for facilitating. I've loved teachers who asked great questions and actually cared what we thought. I can't remember loving teachers for putting us into groups, not even in college. I do remember being in a group where one person designed and administered the project, I was assigned to write about it, another member with a Commodore 64 computer was assigned to type and edit it, and the fourth person was assigned to do precisely nothing. The teacher didn't set up that group, but we knew what everyone could do best. The person we assigned to do nothing was fairly happy about it, and got the same A as all the rest of us.

But I liked the teacher very much. He was brilliant, with a great sense of humor. He knew the subject like the back of his hand. He was always open to everything and anything we had to say about it. He introduced us to the TOEFL exam, which allegedly determined how well people knew English. We sat, a whole class of native speakers, and argued about what the correct answers were to various grammar questions. I always make jokes about people reading The History of Cement, and if I'm not mistaken,  he introduced it to us as a TOEFL writing or reading topic.

There are great teachers. I've had a few. What would Charlotte Danielson say about them? Who knows? Why would anyone even care?
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