One Teacher Contemplates Memorial Day Weekend 2014

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What do most people do on Memorial Day weekend? Hmmm…I think some travel. I’m pretty sure many get together with family or friends. Barbequing seems to be a popular activity. I suspect others like to get outdoors and engage in sports or some other fun, active endeavor. What am I doing, you ask? I’m a teacher. Any guesses?

I’m procrastinating. That’s what I’m doing. I’m sitting here at my computer, pecking on the keys, throwing words across the screen because I’d rather do anything other than what I need to do right now. I need to complete my portion of my teach evaluation packet (summary of student achievement data and reflection on my professional goals). I also need to begin my student report cards because the last online report card window opened at 4:00 PM on Friday of this holiday weekend. Yep. Opened on a weekend. Doesn’t that imply that I should use this time wisely? And truth be told, there are too many real time distractions at school to complete them there. If others do so, I’d like to see how they did it.

Am I complaining? Yes and no. On the one hand, I love …. uh oh. Choosing the next word isn’t automatic anymore. I had to stop and debate with myself. I was going to say “teaching.” But that’s not so true anymore unless this were May 25, 1991 or so. That’s when I really TAUGHT. Even though I was a relatively new teacher, I wasn’t being told what to do or how to do it. I wasn’t turning in lesson plans to anyone for any reason. The professional goals I made then were entirely up to me. No one dictated how many I HAD to have or what they had to pertain to. That’s not to say that there weren’t expectations. But the main expectation was that I worked to IMPROVE MYSELF as a teacher. I was expected to learn and get better at teaching. I wasn’t expected to figure out how to raise test scores.

So in light of that last paragraph, yes, I’m complaining. My teacher evaluation this year includes a VAM document that crunched a bunch of student achievement data FOR ME. I don’t even know for sure which kind of data was crunched. It also includes reading AND math data, even though I don’t teach math directly. I teach English Language Learners from multiple grade levels, some who speak very little of the language yet. Part of my score also includes data from the whole school. Why that’s done and how that’s done is a mystery. The only thing I really know about this newest system of data crunching for teacher evaluation is that my local union took a long, hard look at the company and their process and forced the administration to retrofit last year’s data (whatever would have been used) into their model so that we could see what the outcome for teachers’ evaluations would have been, to see how it would impact us. According to our union leaders, the system was going to rate a strong majority of teachers positively compared to past models they tried to thrust upon us that would have rated about half of us as either “Needs to Improve” or “Unsatisfactory” and would have put us on remediation plans. At least this time, the data would be used to find out what kind of growth students had made in the past year so that they could project what kind of growth each student was EXPECTED to make this year (known as a “propensity score”). At least this system was comparing each student’s growth to him or herself and not to an arbitrary standard or equally random “grade level” standard. That was an improvement.

But even so, this is the most mundane, boring, unproductive, least useful way I could be using my time. I have been doing some form of “top-down work” now for so many years that my mind has become resistant to it. I told a friend today that I have gone on “mental strike” against what I have to do. I have no autonomy…or so very little that what little I may actually have is really just a farce. The time I spend on Facebook learning about and engaging in the fight against corporate reform and working to save public schools is so much more fulfilling and educative. I learn about what other teachers are doing in their classrooms as they resist the nonsense that is being foisted up them, too! I get a lot of inspiration from them and from their ideas and actions that helps me continue getting out of bed each day and I realize that fighting for the classroom I had in 1992 or so is why I must continue to hang in there and do what I have to do while being creatively subversive when I need to be.

Now, on the other hand, I’m NOT complaining. This is because I know what the dire situations are across the country and I know that my situation, which was once quite dire, is much less so today. I still have my job and I am still fortunate to have absolutely beautiful, curious and excitable students that I get to work with every day. I have many parents in my school who still appreciate what teachers do for their kids and will support us as best they can. Even though we have our challenges with some families, we still pull together as a staff and support one another to find workable solutions to the problems we face. Our principal is also very realistic and supportive and values that which makes teaching and learning authentic and fun. Our school board has begun to listen to and value what the teachers say and have recently hired a new superintendent who is bringing what appears to be a new tone into the district.

So I have much to be thankful for, but must continue to work within a system that would like to see me fail. And that’s where my mind lies…in the middle of this quagmire.  I will trudge through it. I will “get ‘er done”. I look forward to being on the other side of it.

Happy Memorial Day to all! I hope your holiday weekend is full of relaxation, uninterrupted time with family and friends, great barbeques and fun in the sun.

I hope one day that I will be able to purposefully enjoy engaging in and completing my work in a more timely way so that I can join you in celebrating more holidays in the near future!

Please join with teachers to bring sanity and useful purpose back to our profession. Help put US back in charge of making it better! Thank you!

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3 responses to “One Teacher Contemplates Memorial Day Weekend 2014”

  1. Michael Lambert says :

    Excellent. I wish the union had more backbone than to try to insure more teachers were rated well by a system that has zero validity to begin with.

  2. factionistafiles says :

    My union continues to challenge the implementation of it because there are always inconsistencies with it. One problem we have is that our state passed a law requiring student achievement data to be included in teacher evaluation. What we need to do is educate more of our legislators to repeal this law.

  3. Another teacher says :

    I think there is a less than subtle implication as to your value as a person when the grading window opens on a holiday weekend.

    Something similar happened not too long ago. We received an email late in the afternoon of the last day before break. The administrator wished us a happy break and followed that by reminding us that the odious and pointless evaluation binders teachers must compile were due soon. I felt that there was an implied “P.S.- we own you. You can’t win. Just wanted to remind you” I doubt that was the intention, but that was how I felt when I read it.

    When teachers are treated as children rather than professionals, when the deck has been stacked against ever feeling like one can do a good job and you are constantly micro-managed and in fear for your livelihood, you simply will never be able to do as good a job as you want to do or that you are capable of doing. It goes against human nature.

    Cry me a river, right? Well, let’s put it this way, would you want to put your life in the hands of a firefighter who was being micro-managed by accountants? Do you want the firefighter responding to your 911 call to be concerned with putting the fire out and rescuing your loved ones rather than being concerned with how many red lights he had to run to get to you, or having him fiddling with the amount of water pressure he has been told he can use regardless of the nature and extent of the fire? I wouldn’t. But we do that to teachers and thus to students.

    That is what happens when a teacher cannot use every tool he or she possess when trying to reach a student. The teacher must use only the prescribed “tools”.To do otherwise might mean risking a bad evaluation and job loss.Given the evaluation tools that are now in place, there is an even chance that the teacher will lose the rigged game anyway. But to ignore the edicts and follow your training, your instincts and all of those other professional qualities that you were hired for is certain career death. So what if students get lost in the shuffle? Isn’t it more important to have all the data in tidy columns for the accountants and data wizards? Isn’t that the purpose of education?

    I am glad that I am no longer a student. I am glad that I grew up in a time when teachers were trusted to be professionals. I am glad that my teachers were allowed to be caring and joyful in imparting a love of learning to students. I thrived in that environment. I don’t think I would make it in today’s educational environment.

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