Saturday, August 18, 2018

The Man from the DOE

There's a great piece over at Curmudgucation this morning. Peter Greene writes about people who say, "I just want to teach." He determines that's just not an option anymore. There are always impediments, and most of them arrive in the form of New Things, barely disguised stupid ideas, about what must be done this year. The issue with these ideas, always, is that (a.) they are presented as imperatives rather than options, (b.) they replace last year's imperative, now discarded as wasteful trash, or (c.) both.

I'm not talking about things like tech in the classroom, which actually grant us possibilities and often save time. I'm agreeing with Greene about nonsense like teaching to the test and junk-science-based teacher evaluation. I'll also add formulaic lesson planning to the list. You must teach for ten minutes and then have students do group work. You must write this on the board in the beginning of every lesson. You must have students hold up cards to indicate when they understand. You must show a picture, give three vocabulary words, and do a little dance during the last three minutes of the class.

One day my entire department was summoned to the principal's conference room. It was pretty odd. We talked about it a lot. What's going on? Are we in trouble? It was hard to imagine us being in trouble all together. We have pretty diverse personalities. I could understand, for example, if I were in trouble. My colleagues are generally less likely to find themselves in trouble. And how could we all be in trouble for the same thing?

Were we going to get an award? Had someone finally noticed we were the smartest and best-looking department in the building? I mean, it was about time, but schools tend not to bother with that sort of thing. Plus we all remembered the time someone generally regarded as the worst teacher in the building won teacher of the year, so we were not confident that getting an award was a good thing anyway.

So we all assembled in the conference room. The guy showed us a few slides. I don't remember what they were about, but it didn't take more than three minutes. Then he told us he wanted more ELLs to pass the English Regents exam. That was it. There was no more. He didn't tell us how to do it. He didn't explain why it was important. He just wanted more students to pass. His work was done here, and he left.

There was no discussion about why it might be difficult for students who don't speak English to pass an exam, ostensibly created to ensure that students used English on a high school level. That was not the point. There was no discussion about how passing the English Regents might help these students. That was not the point either.

Full disclosure--I've actually taught classes designed to help ELLs pass the Regents. I did this because our students can no longer graduate without passing these tests. Back when I was doing that, it was largely a writing test, entailing four compositions. I made students write and rewrite until their hands seemed about to fall from their arms. I helped many kids pass the test. At the end, though, the only skill I'd helped them with was passing one test. No one liked that class, not the kids, and not me either.

Of course, whether or not anyone enjoyed learning was not a concern of the man from the DOE. He just wanted more students to pass the test. He didn't care how it happened, or why it happened, and he offered no advice on how to make it happen. If you ever wonder why there are so many cheating scandals in education, look no farther than people like this guy. It's especially egregious under circumstances in which schools are closed for test scores. It's a wonder there aren't even more scandals going on.

College and career ready is an incredibly short-sighted goal. What we want most for our children is that they be happy. College and career may be important, but poorly-adjusted people are likely to find fundamental obstacles to both. Even if they overcome them, we haven't done our jobs. I'm an English teacher. It's my job to seduce young people into loving English, via trickery, misdirection, or any means necessary.

The guy from the DOE didn't know that. He was surely college and career ready, and that's precisely why he was part of the problem. We're teachers. We need to be part of the solution.
blog comments powered by Disqus