Monday, March 15, 2010

Still torn...

I've been thinking a lot about this article and the implications of the ideas brought forth in it. I find myself still torn over it.  Fire Bad Teachers.  Sure, sounds simple enough, right?  Lord knows, we all know of some really horrible, shrew-like teachers who should have been asked to retire 200 years ago, but what about the ones who don't stick out quite so clearly?  How will we identify those teachers?

I mean, who is looking? Adminstrators?  Again, I understand the theory, but I can't quite see it working in practice.  Adminstrators are supposed to be the be-all-end-all-know-all in the school.   But in my experience, they are not really all that abreast of what happens in the classroom.  There are the annual observations, but for a 'tenured' teacher like me, that means my Admin only is required to spend (2) 15 minute blocks of time in my room observing me.  And anyone who can fog a mirror will likely be able to put on a good enough act for that amount of time.

Now, this year, my admin walks through my class fairly regularly.  He sees what is going on when I am not "on" for an observation.  But this is new.. last Admin darked my door exactly 2 times in 4 years.  I wish I were kidding, but I'm not.  She had the Assistant Principal do my observations the rest of the time.  She could not honestly say she had any idea of what was going on in my classroom.  We could have been reading Tolstoy or having naked twister games, and she'd never have known the difference.

Then there is the question of what MAKES for a good teacher.  It is not a simple formula.  You can send someone to school to learn all the theory, yadda yadda yadda, and they may look great on paper, but get them in front of kids, and they are awful.  Or you can have someone off the street with no 'formal' training, and they are magic in the classroom.  Who gets to decide the criteria for "good enough teaching"?  My fear is the decisions will be left in the hands of those who would just as soon have robots teaching as having live, breathing folks in the class.  Or some teacher may be cut not so much for a lackluster teacher performance, but because they don't 'jibe' with the Principal or Superintenant. 

Maybe extend the time it takes to earn tenure?  Maybe make it like your Driver's Licence (ok, but Arizona is a bad state for this example because my licence is good until 2034 - again.. totally NOT joking) and you have to not only sit through the test again, but you go back to being probationary and having a whole lot MORE evaluations and observations?  More drop-ins?  Less "I'll see you at this time for this class".

You want to really see what happens in the classroom, drop in and watch, for more than 5 minutes.  Do it often.  Daily, if necessary to get an idea of that teacher's style.  Then go on your gut - does this FEEL like a successful classroom?  I know, folks want rubrics, give me quantifiable measurements of performace.  But again, children and teachers are not widgets; they don't all fit nice and neatly into the box.  Besides, as a species we have veered way too far away from our gut instincts, we've rubric-ed ourselves into non-thinking, non-feeling robots.

Sort of like what They seem to want in the classroom... hmm... grand design?


Mister T said...

I wish more people at the head shed could read your feelings that are expressed for so many . . . sometimes we avoid the truth out of fear or because it won't say what we want it to say. Things can't get fixed until we look it square in the face and take it on! If you are set to lead the charge, I will bring others to follow!

qqtpie said...

Ask the Librarian (Sorry, Media Center Specialist)! At our school she deals with almost every single teacher.

A lot of the support staff have a better idea oh how teachers manage their classrooms than many in the school. I interact with teachers, classes, and students on a daily basis. We see who is teaching and who is not. We see who can manage their class and who can't. No matter who is in the room, a teacher tries to be on their best behavior. They can only keep it up so long. Eventually their true style shows through.
We are having huge changes in our staff this year, losing 1/3 to the high schools. They are in the process of determining which teachers will go.