Thursday, January 24, 2013

0198: Permission to teach or a trap: When evaluators start speaking of #freedom in the #classroom

#ccss #education

It’s time to start writing again. First, the third party lords of our schools are back at work. And, I’m getting more and more spam from sites that want me to call upon my inner seventh grader.

Yesterday we had a meeting about questioning and shifting to a more constructivist style of teaching. Of course, the explanation was very vague and condensed. The presenter did a fabulous job of saying: “you [the faculty] teach in an antiquated manner. You must replace your broken teaching style with this new one, and then figure out how to also prepare your students for the test that measures the old way…and while we’re at it, we will be evaluating you with this new form.”

I am not opposed to a style of education that is more liberating. Students actively constructing their own knowledge and understanding optimizing their personal skill sets and developing new ones is marvelous. I strive for that in my classroom…when it’s possible. There is no doubt that I have some hang ups with this cavalier attempt to reform this school and district.

For starters, I’m concerned that teachers here will be evaluated with a corporate instrument that is designed to measure a teacher’s implementation of practices that very few understand. I gather the instrument will seek to quantify something that isn’t terribly quantifiable unless heavily deconstructed.

Further, teachers around me already smell the next best thing. Utterances of “this too shall pass” were audible in the meeting. There will be little to no training beyond the simple “here are some strategies we will be looking to see you use.” An entire philosophical construct will be reduced to mere strategies.

Finally, they recommended teaching less content in order to allow the students develop their own understanding. Help them learn deeper. A fantastic idea, but will the test change? Are we going to have time to help learners adjust? Will teachers have a chance to adjust?

Is this a trap or permission to really teach?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

0194: Why I don’t “just find another job”

#education #occupyedu #revolution #teaching #surveillance

I have a bit of venom toward the system that employs me. It has been suggested that “if [I] don’t like it, then leave.” That suggestion discounts my reasons for staying, and indicates that I’m concerned namely with/for my own well-being. I can see how an outsider might see it that way. Alas, I am a teacher—misunderstood, angry, and often misinterpreted. Those things are constant, but I’d like to speak to ye naysayers and support those who understand because they’ve stood where I have.

To the common comment “if you don’t like it, then leave/find a new job/go to a better school/etc.” Statements such as this one seem to assume that I have dissatisfaction with the work I’m doing. Which would be true to an extent. I’m bothered greatly by the structure of the system, and the way it presents itself. School, public school, presents itself as a benevolent system aimed at making lives and communities better. This also is true to an extent. Certainly, we teachers strive for that goal. However, actions are being taken to measure our effectiveness. Also a good thing, but no one is sitting down and looking at the qualitative data to see how a child is succeeding because of her interactions throughout her schooling. The way she has developed as a human being is given no credence. The way she can read and comprehend and understand and then apply to make her world better is never considered. She is a piece of data presented by a 3rd party testing corporation that measures arbitrary bits of information to compare data set to data set. Legislation has been passed to ensure this practice continues. The data collected is required and the companies that have lobbied for such mandates profit and profit and profit. The statement that I began with assumes that what is being done with public education is actually for the benefit of the children. “If they score better on these tests, then their lives will be better, we’ll have proof.” Of course, there is no real concern for such trivial things as well being.

Yes we live in a world that equates everyone with a certain group of numbers and data. Our existence can be summed up in numbers, if we allow that to be. As teachers we must resist the pressure to dehumanize those with whom we share this world. As humans we must strive to interact as humans and not as divided beings. I will continue teaching in such a way that values the human above the test score. I cannot allow myself to see data instead of kids. This continued belief will be my professional undoing. I refuse the newly prescribed definition of teacher. Perhaps partner in humanity would be better. I’ll be a wrench in the cogs until I’m plucked from the machine.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Quit worrying about what’s best for the test and focus on what is going to make the kids’ lives better. a veteran teacher in a faculty meeting

0188: Lesson Preparation vs. #Surveillance Lesson Plans

#education #SOSchat #follow @symphily #rebel

I am a big fan of planning for my classes. If I’m prepared, then I teach better— there’s no question about it. Having a plan keeps me on track; it also allows me to deviate from MY plan whenever I find it necessary. Essentially there’s a freedom in planning. However, my lesson plan is not a script to follow. I function more as an extemporaneous improv-er, than a heavily scripted actor (who is fined for deviating from the script).

It should be evident that I have some problem with the expectation of lesson plans. And, the problem is not with giving them to an administrator to know what I’m teaching. While I would like to be trusted as a teacher to do my job, I understand that there may be a need to monitor a bit. I also know that there are stacks of paperwork to be collected for documentation that goes up the ladder. I get it.

While fighting the part of me that I’ve been taught is a lunatic, I can’t help but believe there is an insidious intend behind the heavy monitoring and regulation of lesson planning. There’s the constant recommendation, in teacher education programs and in faculty meetings, that we stick to the plan, and the requirement that we match each plan to a state provided objective. And then, each plan must provide enough detail that someone else could come in and teach my lesson (a script is preferred at some schools— not all). I’ve been in places where lessons are expected to be timed. And if there’s something not provided in the curriculum, even if you find it necessary to teach, you can’t teach it—or at least include it in your plan. If your caught deviating from the approved plan you might get a note in your box, or a reprimand, or worse.

It’s good to plan your lessons. It’s a problem when lesson plans become a tool of surveillance and panoptic disciplinary reinforcement.

Fight the insidious power. Deviate from your plan. Deviate from their plan. Teach to enrich lives. Teach a human curriculum. Get your “job” done so you can do your job.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

0187: Rebellious #Teachers Teach People, Not Curriculum

#education #firstyear #occupyedu #SOSchat

I was talking to a few of the first year teachers, there are quite a few, the other day about their experience so far. Some are looking pretty haggard. I see some of the signs of dying idealism in their eyes. Others look as though they’ve been whipped. They’re all fighting the negativity that often comes with first years in rough schools. They’re all having trouble with the bureaucratic side.

One piped in during our discussion that he was always under the gun about his lessons plans. He feels like his students are engaged, and they are. Overall, his classroom management skills are in line, and he’s doing his job. But, the lesson plans are always a fail. Mind you, administration is asking for at least 3 pages per objective with at least 3 objectives taught per week times 3 different courses taught. That comes to a whopping 27 pages of lesson plans. They basically want them scripted, which is crazy. My colleague cannot see the logic in this either. He feels like an outline should do, and then he could fill in the rest of the information, or better, actually spend time prepping for class rather than producing a 27 page document to be criticized by administration and the dark lord evaluators. “What am I supposed to do?” he asked.

This teacher is motivated. He’s an alternate route certification teacher, who bleeds passion. He lacks the pedagogical jargon and is still quite green, but he’s intelligent and motivated. And he’s growing weary of trying to meet the demands of those who do not teach.

My response to his inquiry was simple, “Learn to maneuver through the bureaucracy. Figure out how to make them think you’re doing what they want you to, or what they’re requiring you too, and then do what is best for the children in your classroom.” He looked shocked. We discussed how the education system is not particularly logical in many areas, and the system in not necessarily designed to produce happy healthy citizens. The system in only benevolent in word, not deed. The good that is done takes place in the classrooms of teachers that are often deemed rebellious because they reject the corporate agenda. Rebellious teachers teach and support humans, not curriculums and agendas.

Monday, September 17, 2012

0185: Sneaky Evaluators: Who Sent You, and Why are You Disrupting My Class?

#education #SOSchat #teacher #evaluation
There is a constant stream of evaluators and academic “coaches” streaming through the classrooms at my school. They come in driving unreasonably nice cars, and always look like they just came from a designer boutique and then a full service salon. They look like blooming movie star hopefuls or just well kept wives of the wealthy, noses pointed to the heavens and all. They’re interactions with us lowly teachers come in the form of a note in our box or a message through the principal that we need more of this or that or to put our objectives on a certain part of our boards. These evaluators float through our classrooms on Jimmy Choo heels with iPads in hand. I’ve spoken before, to be polite, when one stepped into my room. She did not look up. She just made a note—perhaps that I’m a distracted teacher.

It’s uncomfortable to have a complete stranger walk in to your classroom and start taking notes with no introduction. Further, it’s disruptive. Kids don’t take strangers lightly always. They’re encroaching on our established safe space. And, I understand what they’re doing and why, many of my colleagues do not. The way they carry themselves is less than desirable, and the fact that I hear they’re “coaches” but they make no attempt to help us know who they are and why they’re with us is problematic. I don’t teach in a rich or even middle class school. We’re humble people of humble means. We have problems, many of which are caused by the segregation of students and allocation of finances in the district. Knowing the district is paying for these celestial snobs to walk through our crumbling building is bothersome and disturbing.

Just let us know why you’re here and who you are. What are you looking for? Are you here to help or screw us? Don’t be sneaky.

It’s bothersome that this is not a rare occurrence in our nations schools. We teachers are under the gun, but we will never know the gunner, nor the reason why they shot us.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

0119: #Education, Doublespeak, and a Guillotine?

#teaching #SOSchat #revolution

Quality teaching means two things. Her test scores reflect her quality teaching; or, her commitment to her students reflect her quality teaching. One statements reflect a commitment to test scores, the other to students. Does the public have a means of determining the difference? Only if they’re aware that there should be a distinction to be made. Many teachers are not even aware that there should be a difference. It’s difficult for a teacher to separate themselves from their test scores. It’s a cognitive miracle. The importance of the test is constantly reinforced through slogans, media, and, of course, evaluations. The slogans are branded onto the psyches of children from kindergarten fore. Teachers are asked (required) to participate in the branding— after all, it’s their job on the line. It behooves a teacher to create a test taking machine, further, a self-motivated test taking machine. It makes the work easier. Full buy-in to the testing system means success for all, or at least uniform massification for all. Dissidents beware. Anyone who speaks against the system, teachers, students, or parents, should expect to be branded a radical yahoo. Dissent will make the system crumble. Students who resist are suspended, expelled, remediated, and so forth. Student dissent is often subconscious and springs forth from the knowledge that forced compliance is unnatural. Defiant teachers are ostracized until they comply. They receive poor evaluations, are put on improvement plans, or fired. Some are just considered radical, and have to function more like spies than “teachers”. It’s an act of sneakily teaching the student with the appearance of teaching the test. A conscious teacher must be a master of doublespeak and fully aware of the doublethink required to function in the education system. Principals who dissent are brutalized and blackballed and the punitive measures continue to the top I’m sure. The carnage is widespread, but covert. The ones harmed the deepest are the students and teachers, oh, and society as people function less and less as human beings and more as automatons. People are being corralled into increasingly separated classes and camps. The poor, and barely making it in one camp, and the demigod rulers somewhere else— somewhere like the heavens where healthcare, literacy, and vacations are copious. Where is the solution? Who knows? Perhaps in community involvement, or better teacher evals. Maybe in representative democracy. Hell, maybe it’s somewhere in 18th century France. Viva la value-added measures my ass.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

0087: I got your #Education Reform right here


Dear Ms. Rhee and other Corporate Reformers,

I notice you’ve taken an interest in the education of the students I teach. Their test scores aren’t great so you have offered a package of solutions. I’m glad someone it taking an interest. As you collect more money on the behalf of my students I ask that you donate a little bit to Terry, who has kidney stones and an infection Medicaid won’t pay and even if they would his parents don’t have a car. The nearest clinic is ten miles away. Eudora has an abscessed tooth, it hurts they can’t afford to get into the dentist, another healthcare issue. There are other kids in the house with more pressing medical issues. So I bought her some orajel, and showed her how to use saltwater to kill the pain a little. Laneka’s mom is working three jobs, and is tired. She takes care of her brothers and sisters. After she’s done helping them with their homework she’s too tired to do what I assigned. Donovan’s dad lost his job. Will you get him a job? Janeice got raped by her mom’s boyfriend. Kiki watched her brother get shot in the chest a month ago. Jeremy sleeps in a different house every night, and only eats at school. You get the point right?

I’m glad you’re taking an interest in education. Use you power to help my kids, please. For the price of a lobbyist, a few corporate donations, and your salaries, you could make a few communities better, move them up Maslow’s hierarchy, and then they could focus more in class, and add some value, as it’s called. Their scores would improve drastically. I’ll even give you the credit. Then you’ll be the hero. You will have transformed a life or two. You will then be a real education reformer.

Thanks for your concern, but I’ve got your education reform right here.

Yours very truly,

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

0044: We need conversations, not evaluations

#teacher #teaching #edchat

I was formally evaluated the other day and met expectations in every single area. For starters, that is bullshit. I have become fairly effective at what I do. I’m professional, I’m abreast current trends in educational research, I follow policy, and even do some advocacy work from time to time. I “have it together”. I’m a good classroom manager, that is, I seldom send kids to the office because I handle problems internally. Good for me. But, does this shining evaluation reflect beyond the fact that I am liked by my principal? The form is simple, all it requires the evaluator to do is circle or check certain competencies. So, I perform a dog and pony show that is a version of what happens everyday in my classroom. Again, I “know how to teach”. But, these evaluations don’t reflect what always goes on in class. It doesn’t reflect the struggle to teach when things go awry. It doesn’t reflect the struggle to get a single point across, much less have students retain something when several students decide they’re not going to learn today. And most important, it doesn’t reflect my internal struggle. I love teaching and I hate it. I want to quit, but I don’t know what else to do. I want to stay, but I could do other things. I’m not challenged fully, but my hands are full. I’m frustrated, and angry, and joyful, and disgruntled. I’m fighting a losing battle and loving it. Who asks about this stuff? Why aren’t these things a part of evaluation?

I’m not knocking a good evaluation. I just wonder why. And what if I wasn’t liked? Teachers and principals need to be more interlinked. There needs to be an ongoing discourse that brings up problems and solves them collaboratively. These evals are just an extension of the banking model of education that plagues our education system. We need intimate conversation, not distant evaluation.