Thursday, May 04, 2017

Why Teacher Teams?

There are teacher teams in a whole lot of UFT schools these days. We have them in my school, as part of an SBO we wrote, once a week. In some poorly represented schools teachers do them every single day. They aren't mentioned in the Contract, and there's no requirement for them. Also, pretty much everyone participating hates them. A UFT official told me that very thing recently. So why are they so popular?

That's fairly simple. The DOE, in its infinite wisdom, rates principals. Naturally people who sit around in offices all day know absolutely everything about what makes a good principal. Teachers haven't got a clue. They look for things like support, or help with issues, or nonsense like that. The educrats know better.

Therefore, they've designed something called a PPO and something else called a Quality Review. So don't be surprised when principals ask you to sing and dance and put up bulletin boards with rubrics. In fact, the actual QR is supposed to be a reflection of the principal. Of course it's also public, so it might not be in your best interest to run around throwing stink bombs and pulling the fire alarm that day.

But one thing the Quality Review looks at, and one thing that's mentioned all over the PPO is teacher teams. Does your school have them? How often? How rigorous are they? What protocol do they follow? Exactly how miserable are the teachers compelled to sit through them? And how do you get your teachers to pretend they love them anyway? (If you have the patience and want to see what it actually says, you can read the PPO, or Principal Performance Observation Tool, but you get the idea.) Just like we have to go through the motions and do Danielson, principals are under enormous pressure to have teacher teams.

It's funny because I talk to teachers all day long regardless. Whenever I have issues regarding my classes I discuss them with other teachers. I will and do steal ideas from everybody and anybody. In fact, ever since I was kicked out of the trailer and had a room with actual working technology, I've had to grapple with it. As I write this I'm seated next to a student who's a computer genius, a student who knows the answer to every tech question there ever is, was, or will be. But he's not always around.  I talk to teachers too, and they give me tips on PowerPoint, for example. My habit of illustrating this blog every day has proven enormously helpful.

Instead of talking with students and teachers,  or writing about what I actually do, I could sit in a group and analyze lessons with some sort of rigid protocol, of course. Because what's more desirable in education than rigid protocol? We're gonna do this, we're gonna do it this way, and we can't possibly do it any other way.  What student doesn't love an attitude like that? Don't you go into your classroom each and every day with a mindset toward being absolutely inflexible no matter what? No? Well I don't either.

But it's kind of a top-down thing. In a way, it's not unlike what we do. I mean, since we're rated by absolute nonsense, why shouldn't our principals be rated by it too? And if I'm being rated by some state test, it's probably a good idea to show my students how to pass it. In fact I am being rated by a state test and I'm not teaching it to my students, since only a very small percentage are taking it. I guess I could teach my students how to pass a test rather than how to use and love English. I've done it before. However, when I did it, the only skill my students learned was how to pass that test. Not exactly the most important thing they could do.

So are your teacher teams turning around your so-called failing school? Are all the students living in poverty suddenly well-to-do? Are all the learning disabilities now just abilities? Have all the ELLs instantly learned English? And if your school is doing OK, is it now doing more OK? Did teachers never share ideas before teacher teams? Did they never share best practices before? Has it changed your life? Do teachers never learn anything unless you sit them in a room together and make them write up some nonsense just to prove they actually sat there?

Of course you used to share ideas. You used to ask your colleagues if this or that would work, and you used to do it whenever the issue came up. But now, you all have to go to the same place at the same time, and you have to follow the protocol. You don't have time to share ideas, because you need to stay on task. Instead of all that sharing ideas, you have to fill out the form so that the bureaucrats can look at it and say, now that was a great principal. He made those darn teachers fill out that piece of paper. Another 45 minutes down the tubes.

It really doesn't matter. Your principal's rating revolves largely around whether you have these meetings, and that's more important than the quality of your teaching or any of those frivolous off-task questions you may have.

Next year, to really rev up the quality, maybe Carmen Fariña will send people to install microphones and cameras, and make sure you don't waste valuable teacher team time saying hello and goodbye to one another. 
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