Guest column by Christa Allan, a retired teacher of 25 years’ classroom experience (unlike our State Superintendent and most of his inner circle), author of five novels (four published, one due out in 2014) and mother of five. She and her husband reside in New Orleans.
PLEASE WATCH THE VIDEO AT THE VERY END.
• Your annual employee evaluation is based on two, one-hour visits from your manager/supervisor/CEO. One of which you have advance notice of; the other is at the discretion of the manager/supervisor/CEO. Also, it has been decided in advance that 10% of you will fail the evaluation, and 10% of you will be considered exceptional.
• You have been effective at your job/position, doing what you know is best for your clients/patients/employees. The corporation, however, decided that it is implementing a “one-size-fits-all” approach, and you are obligated to adhere to this new policy.
• You have decided you want to pursue a career in law, dentistry, business, or medicine. To be accepted into the graduate program, you must pass a test. But the test that determines your entrance is dictated by the state in which you reside and perhaps even by the city in that state. So your friend in Wonderland, Texas will sit for a different test than you will in FantasyWorld, Texas, and both of your tests will differ from someone in GetReal, Florida.
Admission into the Graduate Program will be based on the same score requirements, regardless of where you have taken the test.
• Congratulations! You have earned the degree to be in the medical field. However, No Patient Left Behind has been instituted, and now there are learning targets. So, for every patient who fails or becomes seriously ill, and/or who does not follow your specific guidelines for living a healthy life, there will be consequences. These may range from your having to repeat courses you’ve taken in medical school to losing your license.
• It’s your first day on the job at Grape Technologies, and your supervisor assigns you an office, which has a desk, a chair and a file cabinet. “Where,” you ask, “do I find my supplies?” The supervisor directs you to the nearest big box or office supply store. There you will purchase: pens, pencils, paper clips, stapler, tape, paper. . .The supervisor reminds you that sometimes people you work with will not have their supplies, so you might want to be prepared for that by buying more than you need for yourself.
If you thought those scenarios were absurd, arbitrary, and atrocious, welcome to part of my world as a public school teacher. If you agree with those scenarios, you need remediation.
The public perception that teachers are opposing tests and evaluations because they fear being “outed” as ineffective is asinine, and it reflects an uninformed perception of the teaching profession altogether.
Are there “bad” teachers? Of course. Mary Kay Letourneau was education’s poster child of bad. Every profession has “bad.” I’m thinking, just off the top of my yuck list: Dr. Michael Kamrava (Nadya Suleman’s fertility doctor), Michael Vick, Bernard Madoff. . .
But, those of us in the classroom who are confident we’re teaching students, not the books, say, “Bring it on!”
My administrators know they can walk in my classroom any day, any time. They’ve not only walked in unannounced, they’ve brought other teachers and supervisors. They’ve sat next to my students to ask them what they were doing and why.
Do I coach my students ahead of time? No. I want my students to answer honestly, and I’m not afraid of what they’re going to say. If a student doesn’t think s/he is learning, I want to know. Unfortunately, some of my students don’t realize until years later that they’ve learned something. I have the emails to prove it.
I’m a “good teacher,” not because my students’ scores attest to that. My students attest to that. Not all, obviously. But enough of them that I continue to do what I do because I know I’m reaching students. Because, I teach students. I don’t teach the book.
I’m a good teacher because I don’t teach to the test. I teach to the student. My goal is to prepare students, not simply for college, but for the world beyond high school. To teach them what to do when they won’t know what to do. To teach them strategies for success, to think critically, to open themselves to becoming lifelong learners.
I’m a good teacher because I have learned the most significant learning can be purely accidental. The learning that catches students by surprise years later when an event triggers some memory, for example, and suddenly “you have to know what to do when you don’t know what to do” makes sense. I’d like to pat my own back for that particular “accidental” learning, but I can’t. Actually, my role is to provide the opportunity for the serendipity, not to provide the moment it happens.
And this push for teacher evaluation so as to purge the system? Even Charlotte Danielson, the economist who designed the rubric, said Louisiana is using it all wrong. The original rubric uses 22 indicators that should be observed in a teacher’s classroom. The Louisiana version uses 5.
“Taking my framework and using only a small subset of it can be problematic,” Danielson said. “Districts and the state should be concerned because it is inevitably going to lead to inaccuracies that could lead to challenges.” http://www.thetowntalk.com/article/20130307/NEWS01/130307008/Louisiana-s-modified-teacher-assessment-falls-short-some-say
But teaching is complex, and evaluators — who will mostly be principals and assistant principals — may make mistakes when they see teachers doing something well, or badly, and they don’t have enough information from the rating system to help them score what they see, she said.
“My recommendation is to use the full instrument, and then if what you want to do is focus on some aspect of it, that’s fine. But adopt the whole thing,” she said. http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2012/11/expert_on_teacher_evaluation_h.html
The Louisiana DOE is clearly not pleased. Superintendent John White’s Chief of Staff Kunjan Narechania, in an email released by the DOE, says that Daniels is “…is being a pain again. Apparently some reporter interviewed her about us using a version of her rubric for our system. She said she thinks it’s a bad idea for us to use an abridged version of her rubric and that we should have piloted for a year. So lame.”
Charlotte Danielson http://www.danielsongroup.org/article.aspx?page=charlotte is internationally recognized, and, as taken from her bio: “…advises State Education Departments and National Ministries and Departments of Education, both in the United States and overseas. She is in demand as a keynote speaker at national and international conferences, and as a policy consultant to legislatures and administrative bodies.”
The eloquent assessment of Danielson at the Louisiana State Department of Education, however, is that she is “a pain,” and her idea is “so lame.” While this may be a fine example of rhyming (and I’m not sure where that might fall on the Compass rubric), it is vapid and an embarrassment.
Let’s make this simple: A teacher receives tenure after three years. That means that administrators have THREE YEARS to determine the effectiveness of this teacher. A teacher does not become a “bad/ineffective” teacher the first day of his/her fourth year in the classroom. No “dog and pony” show can survive three years.
So, the real question isn’t why there are ineffective teachers in the classroom. The real question is why administrators allowed them to be ineffective for three years. For years, I was a teacher mentor/assessor for whatever flavor of the year was being used to evaluate teachers. Trust me on this one. Some teachers should never have been allowed to be granted tenure, but for one reason or another, made it through the system.
It bothers me that some administrators, who had three years to decide if a teacher should be tenured, weren’t doing their jobs. It bothers me that some administrators wouldn’t know good teaching if it slapped them back into their offices, and those administrators will be evaluating teacher performance.
The conclusion based on past evaluation systems is that future evaluation systems can be equally ineffective. Anyone who’s ever used a rubric knows the degree of subjectivity inherent in using it.
For your entertainment, here are only two specious examples from the rubric:
Domain 3: Instruction
• A student asks whether they might remain in their small groups to complete another section of the activity, rather than work independently.
Ignoring the pronoun-antecedent error (a student-they-their), the above is provided as an example of a teacher who would score Highly Proficient on the rubric. Essentially, by discouraging students to work on their own when they have completed the original group task is rewarded. Why?
Domain 1: Planning and Preparation
• One of the learning outcomes is for students to “appreciate the aesthetics of 18th Century English poetry.”
This is provided as an example of the preparation and planning that would be exhibited by an Effective/Proficient teacher. How, exactly, would one observing a classroom know if students “appreciate the aesthetics” of anything? What, exactly, does the evaluator look for to determine when a student is grateful for poetry’s beauty?
And that’s just two.
I noticed the state DOE site is now keeping the term Human Capital Information System http://www.louisianabelieves.com/teaching/compass-information-system-(hcis) inside the parentheses and referring to it as the Compass Information System instead. Why is that? Perhaps John White decided that referring to teachers as “human capital” might err on the side of total arrogance and insensitivity? When I used HCIS, there was no euphemistic substitute. My instructional goals, planned learning outcomes, and my evaluations are stored in a system that labels me a human used to generate income or as a financial asset.
So, maybe you’ll understand why some days, I play “Let’s pretend…”
I pretend to hurl the textbooks and state-mandated curriculum through the windows and tell students, “Okay, let’s talk about what really matters. Let’s talk about what you’ll face in the world. How tragedy and joy are holding hands, and they’ll play Red Rover with you for the rest of your life.”
And then there’s Taylor Mali if you really want to know What Teachers Make.