Friday, November 06, 2020

January Regents Canceled--What Does That Mean for Us?

Acting NY State Education Commissioner Betty Rosa did something right the other day. She canceled the January Regents Exams. That's a good idea, considering the chaotic school year we're having. Some of us are teaching remotely. Others are teaching small groups of students inside schools. Yet others are doing different things on different days.

This is an odd year for me. I have students who simply don't show up. You call their homes, and sometimes you get a response. Sometimes you don't. I called a student yesterday, and a young child answered. I spent many minutes trying to get the child to get his mom on the phone. When I finally did, she said she didn't know what to do. She tells him to go to class, but he just doesn't want to.

This student, like many others, would be coming into school every day if we were regularly showing up. I know this because he was in my class last year. Why isn't he coming? I can't tell you, exactly, but I kind of understand. This is a very social young man, and remote instruction isn't particularly motivating him. It's too bad. He's very bright and would do as well as anyone if only he'd show up. My bag of tricks is very attuned toward discouraging negative behavior, but I can't just drive into Queens every morning to throw this kid out of bed, or drag him home, or whatever it takes.

That brings us to the question of teacher observation. We have an agreed upon system that relies upon test scores that do not even exist. The ostensible reason for this is a lack of reliance on administrators. While I'm not in love with this system by any stretch of the imagination, I agree that many administrators are unfit to judge teaching. I'd guess that 25-40% of administrators ought not to be school leaders, and the only upside is that at least they aren't teachers. Alas, while that's good for kids, it sucks for us.

Given that tests aren't even a thing, and given that whatever the other criteria for MOSL may be is muddy at best, the only thing left on which to rate us is supervisory observations. Consider this--there are virtually no supervisors who have ever taught remotely. There are absolutely no supervisors who've taught under the bizarre hybrid conditions we may or may not be using now.

So where do they come off criticizing us, or saying they know how to do it better? The very word principal is short for principal teacher. It's hard to imagine a principal teacher who has never done the contemporary teacher's job, but we have a city full of them. 

I'm not stereotyping administrators. I know some great ones. I know administrators who are supportive and helpful. If all were that way, we'd have a system we could work with. Supportive administrators make supportive teachers. Unfortunately we have a DOE created by and for Mike Bloomberg, and support is not even a priority over there, 

I could easily imagine this DOE putting out a directive on observations. Someone recently asked me about a "remote Danielson" program. I could imagine that. The thing is, Danielson was not designed to be an evaluation system. It was meant to be something to strive for. As an evaluation system, it gives way too much leeway to 30-year-old Boy Wonder supervisors. Furthermore, even if that were not a factor, it's not suited to remote instruction, let alone socially distanced classrooms in which normal human interactions are hobbled. Am I ineffective because I can't motivate a student to log into my class?

If I'm doing something really awful, my AP or principal ought to let me know about it. If I'm going to classes drunk and on drugs, they should respond appropriately. But honestly, looking for groupwork and the sort of interactions we'd have pre-pandemic is absolutely unreasonable. It's not at all the same observing groups on Zoom. I'm sure there's a better way to do it, and I'm sure I'm far from the best at it, but the fact is I have eyes and ear everywhere in a real classroom. My students know that, or learn to. In a virtual classroom, I can visit only one breakout room at a time. I'm horrified to enter these rooms and see students doing absolutely nothing. In fact, I'm disinclined to bother with breakout rooms right now.

Teacher evaluations need to move into the background for now, right along with the Regents exams. There's no good way to do it, and making things up as we go along simply isn't effective (let alone highly effective).

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