Reality Sets In

The last couple months have been less than a positive experience, very eye-opening, however. Looking back I can pick out good things, but in the midst it is easy to be sucked in by negativity.

Often to be disappointed in lack of forethought with a lesson that then did not work well, I was upset with classroom management issues, and found myself dreading going to work. How can that be! Working so hard for years to make a dream a reality and then like a veil being lifted, nothing is as you imagined. Being caught up in those ideals, however farfetched they are, sets us up for a rude awakening. Of course, it does not seem to matter how much you tell yourself it is nonsense or illogical, emotion is what it is. If you find yourself angry hours later because a ten year old said something rude, you might be a teacher (or a parent).

So let’s talk reality. Public education in America is messy. Twists and turns, administration and administration and administration for their administration; paper trails and money trails you never see; testing upon testing to gather data that may not tell much, if anything of how to improve. Frankly, and I have said this many times, the majority of people in this country have no idea what is going on in education. The small window allotted for us as students is barely a hint of the real labyrinth.

In our current situation, the biggest pressure is in testing and data. Data is simple, it shows specific values that we can see and understand. If a school or teacher is not producing adequate results, then the answer must be obvious, right? If the answer is that it is the school’s and teacher’s responsibility to make students remember information for a test, then sure. But where is the student’s responsibility in taking charge of that information, in learning, in working for themselves? That is unmeasurable data and therefore, is left out of the equation. How much time do we have invested in taking “standardized” tests to give us data instead of supporting teachers who can show their own? It is not just the day or weeks of the test.

It would seem that we are left in a strange place; a misty mountain. At the summit are administrators of school districts, state officials, companies developing tests, and the multitude of people who work in and around schools for research. In the valley, there are the students we herd from here to there; take a test here, move to another school for behavior or other assistance there. Then there are the teachers, climbing around the steep mountain in the fog, working with the other teachers around them when they can, trying to lead students to new skills, encourage practice, and manage twenty-plus at once. All the while, administrators take a helicopter to drop in and put a spotlight on fifteen minutes of one class period in two weeks. Then the students are tested and the teachers are evaluated based on that data. Teachers are set up to take the fall, and isn’t it easy to blame the ones we do not know or see?

My two cents on data: Collecting data in class is a valuable tool, it lets you know who understands and who needs more practice. It is still just a tool. It can shed light on what needs improvement, but it does not solve the problem.

With as messy as our system is, it is heartening to meet and work with many awesome teachers and administrators. I am fortunate to have a wonderful administration team in my building. Three people who value our time and do their best to support and help out where they can. What strikes me is how much they all care, the teachers and the administrators in the schools. Putting the education of hundreds of students in the hands of these folks is a great decision that anyone could see if they spent a little time talking to them or their students. It is a shame to think about these people hearing all the blame and pressure from a society that needs to see more of the picture than what is seen on the news.

One last thought. With “teacher effectiveness” rolling out, pay-by-performance already implemented in several places, it is amazing how little say the teachers have. The person spending fifty+ hours a week working and numerous hours thinking, planning, studying how to develop young minds, the one who stays up late worrying about how to reach Emma and Jayden, the one who uses their own paycheck to buy things for the classroom because it is easier than jumping through administrative loops or they do not have a budget, the one who brings in extra coats for students that need them, or any extra thing (A hint, it’s not just one or two teachers in a district, these are the type of people who go into teaching.) They have little control over how they are evaluated.

Could the students teach themselves today?