Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Oh, satire...

Whenever I come across satire such as this or the like, it gives me a spark of hope.

Increasing Number of Parents Opting to Have Children School-Homed

Someone outside of myself and the teaching profession sees the problems here, right? Surely, eventually, something will be done. Someone will come to his/her senses and give the helm a sharp turn. Usually this is quickly squashed by my ever present cynicism, but still...

Monday, March 29, 2010

Something for the unbelievers

Forgive me if you've seen this, but a fellow teacher friend sent it to me via email this week, and I loved it. I've often said that teaching must be the only PROFESSION in which ordinary people are allowed to evaluate policies and establish procedures with no education or training to support those decisions.

But people still don't get it. Perhaps because they think "I went to school...isn't that enough?" And even a first year teacher on his first day can tell you: a school is a very different world than the one perceived as a student. Maybe it would help to have an analogy. What if we took some other profession and attempted to intervene, using only the limited, basic knowledge of a consumer. So, someone wrote that analogy:

"No Dentist Left Behind"

My dentist is great! He sends me reminders so I don't forget checkups. He uses the latest techniques based on research. He never hurts me, and I've got all my teeth, so when I ran into him the other day, I was eager to see if he'd heard about the new state program. I knew he'd think it was great.

"Did you hear about the new state program to measure effectiveness of dentists with their young patients?" I said.

"No," he said. He didn't seem too thrilled. "How will they do that?"

"It's quite simple," I said. "They will just count the number of cavities each patient has at age 10, 14, and 18 and average that to determine a dentist's rating. Dentists will be rated as Excellent, Good, Average, Below Average, and Unsatisfactory. That way parents will know which are the best dentists. It will also encourage the less effective dentists to get better. Poor dentists who don't improve could lose their licenses to practice."

"That's terrible," he said.

"What? That's not a good attitude," I said. "Don't you think we should try to improve children's dental health in this state?"

"Sure I do," he said, "but that's not a fair way to determine who is practicing good dentistry."

"Why not?" I said. "It makes perfect sense to me."

"Well, it's so obvious," he said. "Don't you see that dentists don't all work with the same clientele; so much depends on things we can't control. For example, I work in a rural area with a high percentage of patients from deprived homes, while some of my colleagues work in upper middle class neighborhoods. Many of the parents I work with don't bring their children to see me until there is some kind of problem; I don't get to do much preventive work at all.

"Also," he said, "many of the parents I serve let their kids eat way too much candy from an early age, unlike more educated parents who understand the relationship between sugar and decay.

"To top it all off," he added, "so many of my clients have well water which is untreated and has no fluoride in it. Do you have any idea how much difference early use of fluoride can make?"

"It sounds like you're making excuses," I said. I couldn't believe my dentist would be so defensive. He does a great job.

"I am not!" he said. "My best patients are as good as anyone's, my work is as good as anyone's, but my average cavity count is going to be higher than a lot of other dentists because I chose to work where I am needed most."

"Don't get touchy," I said.

"Touchy?" he said. His face had turned red, and from the way he was clenching and unclenching his jaws, I was afraid he was going to damage his teeth. "Try furious. In a system like this, I will end up being rated average, below average, or worse. My more educated patients who see these ratings may believe this so-called rating actually is a measure of my ability and proficiency as a dentist. They may leave me, and I'll be left with only the most needy patients. And my cavity average score will get even worse. On top of that, how will I attract good dental hygienists and other excellent dentists to my practice if it is labeled below average?"

"I think you are overreacting," I said. "'Complaining, excuse making and stonewalling won't improve dental health'...I am quoting from a leading member of the DOC," I noted.

"What's the DOC?" he asked.

"It's the Dental Oversight Committee," I said, "a group made up of mostly lay persons to make sure dentistry in this state gets improved."

"Spare me," he said, "I can't believe this. Reasonable people won't buy it," he said hopefully.

The program sounded reasonable to me, so I asked, "How else would you measure good dentistry?"

"Come watch me work," he said. "Observe my processes."

"That's too complicated and time consuming," I said. "Cavities are the bottom line, and you can't argue with the bottom line. It's an absolute measure."

"That's what I'm afraid my parents and prospective patients will think. This can't be happening," he said despairingly.

"Now, now," I said, "don't despair. The state will help you some."

"How?" he said.

"If you're rated poorly, they'll send a dentist who is rated excellent to help straighten you out," I said brightly.

"You mean," he said, "they'll send a dentist with a wealthy clientele to show me how to work on severe juvenile dental problems with which I have probably had much more experience? Big help."

"There you go again," I said. "You aren't acting professionally at all."

"You don't get it," he said. "Doing this would be like grading schools and teachers on an average score on a test of children's progress without regard to influences outside the school, the home, the community served and stuff like that. Why would they do something so unfair to dentists? No one would ever think of doing that to schools."

I just shook my head sadly, but he had brightened. "I'm going to write my representatives and senator," he said. "I'll use the school analogy- surely they will see the point."

He walked off with that look of hope mixed with fear and suppressed anger that I see in the mirror so often lately.

(c)John Taylor, 2002
Full-text, author's bio, and essay's history here

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What's an out of classroom teacher to do?

Since I'm not in the classroom at the moment, I don't have the strong motivation to post as I did before. I still want to, but I have a harder time coming up with things to post about. I need to do some reflections on favorite lessons and activities; perhaps I'll go shuffle through some unit plan binders.

I have been in touch with the gal who took over my position, have I mentioned that? We get along quite well and in fact, it's rather a shame we're a state apart, because we could easily be friends! It's an interesting experience to talk to someone about not just similar kids but exact same classes (because you know the chemistry of a kid can change within a different group of kids). They express missing me (yay) but I can also tell from her stories that they like her (yay). So the best of both worlds, eh? She's fabulous, and I will definitely be picking her brain when I get back in the classroom, since she's comfortable with units that I would want to do but don't feel confident about. Pretty neat that I get a new friend out of all this.

I received an email for my county that they are having a teacher fair in May, reminding me that spring marches ever closer; as a result, I need to get serious about whether I want to go to grad school or not, to start planning for the fall.The gal who took my job mentioned that she thought it would be possible for me to take classes while not working toward a degree and then should I start on a path with that school, they would could those credit hours. I could potentially take classes in the fall, even if I'm not technically admitted into their program yet. If I am REALLY serious about this, I need to start emailing some professors and asking questions. There are so many potentials and choices, and I need to start narrowing some of them down.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Progressive Survey - Looking Back

Questions 1-38...
that's dumb. 38. Anyone want to send me 2 more questions to even it out to 40?

1. If you could teach any other subject, what would you teach?
2. How do you feel about being evaluated?
3. Tell a story about a time you & your class laughed together.
4. What about your profession is out of your comfort zone?
5. Describe a learning moment for you in the classroom (i.e. a moment you learned something about yourself or you as a teacher).
6. Do you have favorite students?
7. Have you ever strongly disliked a student?
8. When did you decide to become a teacher?
9. Where do you see yourself in 8 years?
10. There's a book titled, You Can't Make This Sh*t Up!, and you've been asked to submit a story.
11. Do you want to be liked?
12. Who are the teachers who inspire you?
13. Sharing resources: fee or free?
14. Describe your classroom in 3 words.
15. What do you appreciate about the profession of teaching?
16. What is your preferred age to teach?
17. What kind of student were you in school?
18. If you could evaluate YOUR administration, what would you say?
19. Do you "believe" in homework?
20. Describe a time you had to completely "wing it" with a lesson.
21. Tell a story about a field trip.
22. Pedagogy texts...use 'em or lose 'em?
23. Are you involved in extracurriculars?
24. What is the best thing you learned your first year?
25. Parent correspondence: how often do YOU initiate it?
26. If you weren't a teacher, what would you do for a living?
27. What are 3 professional strengths you have?
28. Describe what the graduation requirements should be for a high school student in the 21st century.
29. Should we expect every student to go to college?
30. How could you use cell phones effectively in your classroom?
31. Are you a teacher snob?
32. If you have $100 to spend on your classroom, how would you spend it?
33. Describe your ideal classroom, physically.
34. If you could add any unit to your curriculum, what would you love to cover?
35. Describe a favorite memory of any student(s).
36. Do you support cross-curricular learning? Do you practice what you preach?
37. Describe a time you stood your ground.
38. How do you think we can best evaluate teachers, on a professional/national level?

Feel free to add 2 more questions for me to complete!

source: photo courtesy jasoneppink

Friday, March 19, 2010

Progressive Survey #38

OK, I lied. I only had one question left. It bothers me that there's 38 questions, not 40 or 35. Whatever.

#38. How do you think we can best evaluate teachers, on a professional/national level?

This is quite the topic now, isn't it? And the honest answer I have is: I don't know.

Hey! Cut me a break! I've only been teaching 3 years.

I think there needs to be SOME reflection of student learning in the teacher evaluation. SOME. Maybe it could count for 1/4 of the total score, simply because (you know it, I know it, but I've gotta complete the thought) there are WAY too many other factors influencing that learning: health habits, social interactions, familial dynamics, etc. I don't feel comfortable with standardized tests, but let's be honest, they do have one thing going for them: they're quick. The Powers That Be can score them quickly and get instant results (and don't Americans want everything to be instantaneous?). When we're talking about millions of school children, well, it's just a little easier that something that requires qualitative evaluation.

Before we can really work out effective evaluations of teachers, there needs to be evaluation of administration. All over the country, elected officials are pointing their fingers at teachers. The assumption here is that administrations are doing their jobs. But wait a minute! *DRAMATIC MUSIC*

If these teachers were really ineffective, shouldn't they ALREADY be gone? If administrators were doing their jobs, shouldn't they have seen these teachers as ineffective and gotten rid of them already? The minute you bring administration into the picture, teachers begin relating horror stories: never once visited by an AP or P in their first year, AP falling asleep during observation, observation evaluation is short and valueless, post-observation evaluation never even happens...the horror stories go on. Maybe I'm just passing the blame, but I think before we can figure out how to assess teachers, we need to make sure the people doing the assessing are upholding their responsibilities as well.

So, after all that...if I were to work out an evaluation process, it would be on a much smaller scale, perhaps county-run. It would likely involve a teacher portfolio of lesson plans, parent communication, pre- and post-assessments, copies of administrative evaluations, and evidence of professional development. Included in that portfolio might be a set of state test results, but it could account no more than a quarter of the overall score. It would be done every few years, regardless of tenure.

But what do you think?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

tales from the unemployed

Oh my, is it the middle of March already? We are now in Daylight Savings (LOVE!) and out of winter. Some of you have the end of the year looming so close you can taste it. The taste of victory, my friends. I had a friend comment that she has 54 days left in the school year. 54! Does that sound totally do-able or what?

Probably, though, you're just focused on spring break, which cannot get here fast enough, I'm sure. Because as the season turns, so do the attitudes of your little darlings. Heck, you're tired of 'em, they're tired of you. Everybody needs a well-deserved break.

And here I sit, out of work, and missing my kiddos. Have I mentioned that? Since I've been away from the classroom, yes, I have genuinely missed some of those buggers. I've kept in touch with my replacement, encouraging her when needed and offering advice when requested. When she tells me stories of good days in the classroom, I feel a little nostalgic for those punks.

On the plus side, I received my new state teaching license in the mail! Hooray! The disappointing aspect is that even though I taught for 2.5 years, I will still have to teach in one of THEIR schools for 3 years before I can move up from level 1 or whatever. That's a little frustrating. If I had taught for ONE MORE SEMESTER, I would be in that second tier. But being 5 months shy puts me 3 years back. That sounds reasonable, right? Augh. Whatever. I can't fight it (I don't think), and I don't have the mental energy right now to even attempt to soldier through the red tape. I don't know that there is REALLY any difference between the two, other than one is renewed after 3 years and the other is after 5. I guess I could run into a pay problem, if my county looks only at my license instead of teaching years. Although do they have to accept years taught in another state? I don't even know.

I was excited to see that I am qualified for English/Language Arts for 6-12, though. While the idea of middle school teaching is a tad terrifying (entire new curricula & expectations), it's also somewhat appealing. Maybe because most of my favorite/memorable teachers are from those middle school years. Anyway, it was good to know that's an option, too.

But honestly, I don't even know if I'll be in the classroom again come fall. I know, I know...but I'm thinking about going to get my master's at one of the great nearby colleges. I need to do some more looking around, though; I've obviously missed the deadline for the fall 2010 enrollment, but I need to find out if any of the programs accept people mid-year. If so, I might just get something part-time or at a tutoring facility so I could work on my preparations for the spring. Just some ideas.

Meanwhile, I think I have a few more questions to post on that survey and that will wrap things up.

Friday, March 5, 2010

say it like Schwarzenegger

Still alive, just unpacking and getting our bearings here. Haven't had much mental energy to think about blogging. I'll be back. :)