Latest post from NY VIVA Teacher Mark Anderson’s blog, Schools as Ecosystems. Relationships Matter.
This post was written by Jessica Choi, an ESOL and Foreign Language Resource Teacher at Northwood High School in Gaithersburg, Maryland. She was one of eight VIVA teachers who attended NBC’s Education Nation in New York on Sept. 25, 2011:
What draws people to their professions? For some it’s high salaries. For others it’s a desire to help people. But I think most would agree that they are drawn to jobs where they will be respected.
If you are an engineer or a doctor, you are happy to be identified with your profession. When you are a teacher, however, you sometimes avoid telling people what you do. Too often, upon hearing that you are a teacher, new acquaintances make up an excuse to talk about something else. Or worse, they start telling you—sometimes blaming you—for the problems of the current education system.
Who wants to be put in that situation? If we want the brightest people to become teachers, we need to convince Americans that teaching is a profession that deserves respect.
VIVA is a group that has been working hard to bring respect to the teaching profession by giving educators a voice in public policy. I was fortunate to be one of eight teachers representing VIVA at Education Nation’s second annual Teacher Town Hall in New York City.
Through Education Nation, NBC news hoped to foster “a solutions-focused conversation about the state of education in America.” At the town hall, that conversation focused on respect.
What does respect mean to teachers?
Teachers want the world to know that the old adage, “Those who can’t do, teach,” is far from the truth. The teaching profession is very complex and it needs to attract and retain the best teachers, who will then produce the brightest students in the world.
In order to achieve this goal, our society will need to show teachers the respect they deserve. From the comments I heard most often at the Town Hall, teachers will feel respected when they are fairly compensated, fairly perceived by the public, fairly evaluated, and fairly given a voice in determining the policies affecting their profession.
At the Town Hall, some teachers said that an increase in teacher salaries across the board would make their profession more respected while others thought that merit pay was a fairer option because it would recognize teachers who are striving for excellence.
Maddie Fennel, one of the Teacher Town Hall panelists, said that if teachers were compensated and respected in the same way as doctors, lawyers, and other professionals, “it would change the world of teaching because we could bring many people in who right now would love to be teachers, but who can’t afford to be teachers.”
Teachers’ job is tough
Others, like Kristin Record, the 2011 Connecticut Teacher of the Year, said that teachers want to be respected for the hard work they are doing at their current salary. Higher salaries are “important to get people to consider teaching as a profession to go into, but once we’re there, to say that an increased salary would make me a better teacher is not true. … It’s really then coming off as saying that if I didn’t make a lot of money I wouldn’t do a good job, and that’s not true because I do a good job every day.”
The Town Hall moderator, Brian Williams, tried to show that teachers go above and beyond the responsibilities of their current salary by asking the teachers in the crowd if they worked at least a 60-hour-week, paid for classroom supplies out of their own pockets, and had a second job. Most of the room raised their hands. Professionals should not have to pay for their own supplies or have a “part-time job at Costco to make ends meet,” Williams lamented.
The public needs to recognize that teachers are professionals doing a very difficult job. Teachers will feel respected for their work once the media and the general public acknowledge that their job is important.
Melinda Gates told Brian Williams that “the most important thing (the Gates Foundation has) learned in the last ten years is that a great teacher in the classroom is absolutely fundamental and it’s what changes the trajectory of a student.”
Are teachers lazy?
But few Americans recognize how much skill and hard work it takes to be an effective teacher; some would even go so far as to call teachers “lazy.”
Maddie Fennel said: “When you look at the highest performing countries like Finland and Singapore, they hold their teachers in high esteem.” In the U.S., it’s the opposite. Teachers have become the scapegoat for a declining education system. Do you think the brightest college students will choose a profession where society criticizes them for problems outside of their control?
Japan is another country where teachers are highly respected. I worked in a Japanese junior high school from 2002-2004. As soon as I identified myself as a Sensei (teacher), people went out of their way to help me. I worked very long hours and I didn’t get paid much (unlike Japanese teachers, who are paid very well), but I still loved being a teacher in Japan because not only did I think I was doing something worthwhile, but members of the community also valued my position. I believe that is why there is so much competition for teaching jobs in Japan.
If we want to attract top-notch teachers, Americans need to learn from these countries and start showing our teachers respect.
What makes a great teacher?
Certainly not every teacher is a master teacher. Teachers need a strong professional growth system and a fair evaluation system so that teachers who are not qualified either improve or find another profession. Teachers know that evaluations will help to make their profession more respected, but they want to ensure that the evaluations do not become a popularity contest.
Melinda Gates said that the Gates Foundation set out to study “what does make a great teacher? … The thing we learned from this research is that we have to have multiple measures of what makes a great teacher” and not just evaluate teachers based on one test.
Candido Brown, another panelist, said that teacher effectiveness and accountability could be measured by value added data, by peer-to-peer observations, by administrative observations, by student and parent surveys, and by what the teacher is doing to give back to the school.
Other professionals are not evaluated by just one test or project. It is a culmination of work over time. The same respect should be shown for the teaching profession.
What teachers want
So the discussion came down to some basic issues. Teachers want to be compensated fairly. They want to be fairly evaluated. And they want the public to recognize that their job is complex and important.
Finally, teachers want to have a seat at the table when policy makers are making decisions about their profession. Teachers are the ones in the classrooms every day. They know their students the best and they are the ones who have to implement the policies. It is perceived as disrespectful to create policies that directly impact teachers’ work without considering their expert opinion.
Melanie Allen from the Boston Teachers’ Union Pilot School in Boston said: “When I know passionate, excellent teachers who’ve left the classroom, it’s not because of lack of dollars; it’s because of lack of voice!”
Melinda Gates agreed: “How can you sit around as a group of partners looking at the education system without having teachers’ voices as part of it.“
Matt Presser, one of the final panelists, said: “Too often, school reform is something that’s happening to our students, as opposed to with them or for them, and I think that so many decisions are being made by people in board rooms, people in the White House, when the real people who know what our students need are the people here today, the people in the classroom every day.”
Connecting teachers to policy makers
VIVA recognizes that teachers are the voice of the classroom and that their opinion should be respected. They have been working to get teachers’ opinions heard by key policy makers. So far, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and New York Senior Deputy Commissioner of Education Dr. John King Jr. have listened to VIVA’s teacher-created reports.
Will the ideas expressed at NBC’s “solutions-focused conversations” be shared with policy makers? Or even better, will teachers be invited to help reform education policy? I hope so. But due to the lack of policy makers present at the Town Hall, it is unclear whether teachers’ voices were or will be heard by those making the final policy decisions.
The Town Hall won’t help improve the education system unless the decision makers are listening. Teachers’ voices need to be heard and respected by policy makers, not just by other educators.
VIVA has begun the process of getting policy makers to listen to and respect classroom teachers’ policy suggestions. They plan to do more studies in the future and to continue to present teachers’ ideas to policy makers. Hopefully next year, the organizers of the third annual Teacher Town Hall will respect teachers’ voices by including more policy makers in the audience.
Live recordings of the Teacher Town Hall and the other interviews and sessions from Education Nation can be found at www.educationnation.com.
VIVA Leader Lesley Hagelgans raised her voice in support of unions and education reform. In her response to this post on Forbes.com, Why I Support the Teachers Unions, she writes:
I am a proud member of The VIVA Project which is bringing the voices of teachers into the conversation about reform to the policy makers that shake up our lives. I am also a proud union member. I think the two groups can work together to make sustainable change. I’ve learned invaluable information from both groups. The longer I have joined in the conversation I feel the biggest hurdle teachers are facing is the lack of information from the policy makers and researchers and from teachers back to them. Groups like VIVA and the NEA are helping to close that gap.
By Freeda Pirillis
In my 11 years of teaching in Chicago, both in the public and private spheres, I have met hundreds of teachers at area conferences, workshops, and through advanced university coursework. In our discussions, inevitably the conversation always leads back to how we as teachers prepare our students for the challenges that lie ahead of them, both academically and socially.
Ultimately, the conversation concludes with how teachers contribute to our global society by educating/equipping our students with the tools to be successful from the day they leave our school buildings. As educators, that comes from a place rooted in our own experiences with success in school.
When I reflect on these conversations with fellow teachers and my own schooling experiences, I have to wonder how prepared I was to take on this tremendous role in my students’ lives when I was not myself fully supported as a learner? Reflecting on my own pre-service university preparation, I often felt frustrated with the lectures, the paperwork, the monotonous lesson planning, and the lack of hands-on experience with the students I would be working with at the end of my coursework.
While I appreciated the time spent on creating a solid pedagogical foundation, I did not always see the value of reading out of a textbook or writing a lesson plan that would never come to fruition in a classroom. There was a lack of emphasis on instruction in working with students with special needs or how to differentiate instruction for students working at, above, or below grade level. There was no discussion of how to meet the social/emotional needs of the student whose father went to jail or the child who hadn’t eaten dinner the night before. My four years of university coursework provided me with a basic framework, but very little in substance to prepare me for the important work ahead of me.
When I began teaching in my own classroom shortly after graduating with my Bachelors in Early Childhood Education, I was hit with the reality of what working with young children truly entails. I was ill prepared for the juggling of lesson plans, assessments, communicating with parents, collaborating with colleagues, the wiping of noses and tears, and the many other hats I would wear throughout the day to fully create a nurturing learning environment for my students.
I was also isolated in a teaching environment that didn’t support new teachers and was unaware of the existing resources for new teachers. Like many other teachers I’ve met over the years, I had to seek out the professional development and graduate degree to fully prepare me for what had been greatly lacking in my undergraduate coursework.
In my work with the VIVA Project on the National Idea Mine last fall, I was able to continue the conversation with teachers on the types and quality of clinical training available to pre-service teachers across the country. The VIVA Task Force identified the components of a rigorous teacher preparation program which would ensure all students receive an equitable chance of success regardless of their demographic or socio-economic background.
Streamlining university coursework in the United States and building in a support system for novice teachers is what many VIVA teachers said was lacking in even the best universities. Our meeting with Secretary Duncan allowed me, as a member of the VIVA Task Force, to present to him a list of recommendations on how to improve the quality and rigor of teacher preparation programs, as well as how to continue supporting novice teachers in their first few years of teaching.
As a nation, we must strive to support our students from the first day they enter our classroom and this can best be accomplished by creating and supporting a teaching force that is fully equipped.
Freeda Pirillis is a first grade teacher at a Chicago Public School.
By Dina Rock
For years, the only sound we heard as teachers about education was what was put on our desks, every month, every year. We were never asked what we thought, how we felt and what we envision education to look like in the present and the future.
It seems that nowadays, there are so many people making headlines, for good and for bad, that it’s hard to know what is really going on.
John Merrow, author of The Influence of Teachers, is an expert in the realities of education. So much so that his book should be used as a textbook in a college education class. Every policy leader should read this book, which gives the breadth and depth of the problems, obstacles, and successes happening right now.
Merrow believes, and hallelujah to this, that “teaching could become not merely an honorable calling, but also a well paid, well-respected profession that is difficult to get into.”
In a chapter called Serious Fun, Merrow emphasizes the importance of learning to work together, and that learning, being curious, is inherently fun. “Schools must become places where young people are encouraged to ask questions, not simply regurgitate answers.
This is music to my ears. It’s been so long since we were “allowed” to “teach.” A friend of mine who is a second grade teacher stopped doing word games because her principal told her that it took up time from the students’ learning. If she wasn’t on page 23 at 3 pm, she could be written up. Another teacher told me she stopped making volcanoes with her class during her volcano unit. Her principal felt it was a waste of time.
How can we afford not to teach our children to critically think, problem solve and work collaboratively on projects? We don’t know what lies ahead for this generation, but we do know that if they can’t work to solve a problem, or think out of the box, they will be out of their league compared to other kids around the world. Dates and times they can look up. If we could get our policy leaders to see how important these skills are, then maybe they would see that skill and drill and regurgitating answers is NOT the answer. It’s the problem.
Merrow understands the importance of student learning as part of a teacher’s evaluation. However, he warns that it is important to look at all variables in a classroom. “There is a difference between judging a teacher based on student performance, and connecting student performance with teacher effectiveness.”
I have never met a teacher who didn’t want to be held accountable. The concern lies in HOW they are accountable. Merrow gets this. He knows that policy makers must think about the variables in a classroom on any given day. There has to be multiple measures to assess how students are learning and how teachers are teaching. Merit pay can be part of the equation.
I have heard about teachers who “teach to the test” because that is how they are judged. “If I want to get a bonus, this is what they expect of me. It doesn’t matter that my students can write a story, discuss timely topics with their classmates, or have had events in their lives that prevent them from performing well on any assessment this year.” I agree that the across and down (crossword puzzle method, I call it) of a pay scale is antiquated and needs to be changed. However, Merrow makes good points that it needs to be done thoughtfully to represent a teacher’s experiences and challenges in the classroom.
He tackles the need for better working conditions, higher pay and the need to understand all of the variables that go into our profession.
Throughout the book, Merrow uses stories, anecdotes and analogies to make the points clear. One that will stick in with me is when he said the best schools make the distinction between “How intelligent are you?” and “How are you intelligent?”
He calls for superstar teachers to have these tendencies in common: They recruit students and their families into the process; they maintain focus, ensuring everything they do contributes to student learning; and they plan exhaustively and purposefully by working backward from the desired outcome, refusing to surrender to the combined menaces of poverty, bureaucracy and budgetary shortfalls.
After I read that, I thought: “That should be a huge part our mission.”
I have read numerous books, heard lecture after lecture about the “new direction” in education but pieces of the puzzle were always missing. There was no follow through, or it felt as though someone wasn’t really getting the big picture.
Before every diploma in the field of education is handed out, before every policy maker starts to think of “what next?” before every parent sends their child to school for the first time, this book should be in their hands. It’s comprehensive, readable, and was the best “class in education” I have ever “attended.”
Dina Rock is proud to be in her 24th year of teaching. She currently teaches fifth and sixth grades in Beachwood, Ohio. She is a Hope Street Group Education Fellow.
By Peggy Crouch
It’s nearly time for another school year and I am trying to figure out how to best teach reading to my 5th grade students. My district and the state have been “collecting data” to improve my teaching, but I have not been privy to that data. What am I to do? Not that I believe that the state tests are reliable data to use as an instructional starting point, but isn’t that the purpose of data? Isn’t it supposed to drive instruction?
One of the suggestions of the New York VIVA TASK force, in which I participated, regarding teacher evaluation was that teachers must have access to the state and district data. Teacher access should be in a timely manner and should coincide with an open dialogue between the teacher and the instructional leader of the school: The principal. Last October, I had a brief dialogue with my principal regarding my new students and was shown (not given, shown) their scores from 4th grade. (Yes, only their scores). In other words I was able to see the scores of the previous year’s teacher, but was given no specific data. Nor was I given the results from my own students, and therefore, not able to evaluate my instructional practices.
Since 40% of my teacher evaluation is based in state exam scores, shouldn’t I have access to the results of my efforts, the complete results? I need a breakdown of each student’s test. I need to know if there is an area in which my instruction was weak, and I need to dialogue with my principal regarding these results. Now, again, I REALLY DO NOT PUT MUCH EMPHASIS ON STATE EXAMS BECAUSE THEY DO NOT TELL ME HOW MY STUDENTS HAVE GROWN AS A WHOLE CHILD. However, I am being evaluated on these results, and rightfully deserve time to reflect on my practice. Furthermore, I need to have time for meaningful discourse with my principal, the instructional leader, regarding my instructional practices.
Meaningful discourse has not happened for two reasons: 1) The state has yet to release the data and it is the end of July. 2) By the time my principal receives the data (Mid September/October) from the district office, we are all on overload and have little time to reflect. I would prefer to meet with my principal in the summer when there is time to reflect, but apparently that is not an option.
My initial developmental reading assessment (DRA) is the data that drives most of my reading instruction. I can tell from the DRA what strategies my students use effectively, and with what strategies they need support. My ongoing observations and conferences with students on a daily basis are also effective in determining where my students need extra support. DRA’s, however, can only be effective if the teacher is properly trained in using them. Ahhhh! Properly trained. Well that’s another discussion altogether!
Peggy Crouch is a 5th grade teacher in Mt. Vernon, New York. She was a member of the New York VIVA task force.
By Mark Anderson
John Merrow’s The Influence of Teachers: Reflections on Teaching and Leadership is a great primer for those new to the field and an essential review for those already embedded within it.
Merrow has a way of getting right to the heart of the matter while also revealing nuance. He is able to synthesize his perspective on education through complementary lenses: that of a teacher (he taught briefly early in his career), a parent, and a reporter. He consistently infuses and grounds his perspectives with an awareness of what nurturing, caring for, and educating children is really about.
What I most appreciate about Merrow’s book is that he does not fall into the trap of allowing his perspectives to become polarized in simplistic ways. He holds the union, teachers, and reform leaders’ feet to the fire in equal measure, and they all do better in its stead.
Admiring Michelle Rhee
He has an obvious admiration for the work of many parties, including controversial figures such as Michelle Rhee. As someone who is wary of Rhee’s disturbing lack of nuance and almost mono-maniacal pursuit of one-sided solutions, I felt his portrayal of her was a bit wide-eyed (reporters—and much of the public—seem to love her innate bluntness). He contrasts her position as a “bottom line leader” with the ineffectiveness of such an approach. He also gently criticizes her administration when he notes in response to Rhee’s statement that at least 50% of her teachers had neither skill nor motivation: “Isn’t it the job of leadership . . . to provide motivation? Or is criticizing them for lack of motivation supposed to act as a motivator?”
I even caught myself sharing a moment of admiration for Rhee when he describes her sweeping through her central office and addressing the lack of phone etiquette of her employees. “. . . it sounds like they’re very annoyed. This is not a nuisance; this is your job.” That made me realize there is a clear delineation in educational leadership: the difference between organizational leadership, and pedagogical leadership. Rhee is clearly an effective organizational leader. As a pedagogical leader, however, she leaves much to be desired. This criticism also applies to her mentor Joel Klein, whose recent piece in The Atlantic, The Failure of American Schools, stated that “collaboration is the elixir of the status-quo crowd.” This enunciation of “radical reform” leadership is dangerously unsustainable.
Merrow supports the use of drastic measures in drastic times, such as the bankruptcy firm used in New Orleans: “hiring a bankruptcy firm is obviously not a magic bullet. . . .But even with the odds stacked against it, a bankruptcy firm could be a viable option, if only because it has the freedom to do what others cannot: take drastic steps and then ride out of town.”
We Need to Work Together
Merrow also pragmatically promotes the role of collaboration and the necessity of working with unions and school boards to enact meaningful change: “The responsibility (blame) for the mess we are in is shared equally by weak school boards that caved in to union demands, and protectionist and regressive teacher unions. And while it’s tempting to say ‘a plague on both their houses,’ we don’t have that luxury, because both must be part of any solution.”
The battle between reformers and their opponents is “fundamentally irrelevant to the world children live in,” Merrow notes. “Children are the only casualties” of political or academic battles such as the “Reading Wars” (phonics vs. whole language)
In the Best Interests of Children
In promoting the interests of children, Merrow has some substantive advice that aligns with Alfie Kohn, Theodore Sizer, and with Deborah Meier’s insights in her wonderful In Schools We Trust: the critical importance of emotional, intellectual, and physical safety in schools. “Schools,” Merrow states, “must be intellectually safe places where it’s okay not to know everything.” He devotes a chapter to outlining methods a school can use to address bullying, and to promoting the critical importance of values and character education in schools. “If bullying is a form of abuse and if values matter, why not build schools around the concept of choice and variety? . . . Publish the choices and the code of ethics/behavior, and let families make informed choices.”
Merrow also promotes the value of retaining good teachers (citing a book that everyone should be reading: The Teachers of 2030, Barnett Berry’s book written in collaboration with teacher-leaders) over merely recruiting good teachers. He praises Teach for America, but sums up the program’s limitations well: “I believe that the success of Teach for America reveals an unpleasant truth about how little we value education and children. . . . wouldn’t it be wonderful if ‘Nurse For America’ and TFA were equally inconceivable? If teaching could become not merely an honorable calling but also a well paid, well-respected profession that’s difficult to get into?”
Merrow is clearly committed to the real issues underlying education, and to the philosophical and pedagogical shifts that must occur. “The best teachers empathize and care deeply about students as individuals, but never lower standards or expectations.” Yes!
Data and Leadership
Still, he supports the controversial decision of the L.A. Times to publish the rankings of teachers based on value-added scores: “It took the press to move the system off the dime, where all the adults have been complacently sitting while students fail to learn.
Merrow qualifies this position by stating that parents already know which teachers are effective. I found this defense weak, but I think he points towards the real issue when he quotes from a commenter on his blog: “Data is a window we use to help see what’s really happening. . . If this data’s been readily available and teachers need a newspaper article to find it, we have a communication breakdown, which is ultimately a leadership breakdown.”
The fundamental issue here is indeed leadership, but the release of this sort of data puts the attention not on leadership, but falsely on teachers. This is a rare moment of rhetorical side-taking by Merrow. In his conclusion, he asks: “Are mediocre teachers the heart of education’s problem? Or is it the job itself, with its low pay and even lower prestige?” He clearly positions himself in the latter camp: “When teaching becomes the better job . . . the brain drain will no longer be a problem – and we will likely discover that many teachers now in the classroom have been better people themselves all along.
Wherever we may position ourselves along the spectrum of the debates in education, we all must acknowledge that it’s going to take a lot of hard work to shift the attitudes of complacency, political machinations, laws, contracts, organizational systems, pedagogical methods, resources, and public attention to address the incredible rifts that exist between the haves and the have-nots in American society; what Merrow terms “a kind of bipolar disorder.”
This book is one small step in the right direction of shifting the national debate away from political polemic and toward the substantive issues that truly will matter to children sitting in classrooms today.
Mark Anderson is a NYC Teaching Fellow entering his 3rd year as a 5th Grade special education teacher at PS 58 in the Bronx. Over the last year, he worked with the VIVA Project to craft policy recommendations for teacher evaluations in New York State, which were presented to John King and discussed with NYSUT.
As a parent, I am always enlightened by the data I get about my children’s (an 8th grade boy and a 6th grade girl) experiences in their private school. As a professional community activist, I’ve talked to literally thousands of hard working, enthusiastic and committed public school classroom teachers. It doesn’t matter whether the teacher I’m talking to works in a private or public school, whether he or she is unionized or not, they have surprisingly similar attitudes about student data and their instructional strategies: They want and need tons of good data to be the best teachers they can be.
That was the most emphatic response we got when we began the pilot VIVA Project teacher idea exchange last year. The VIVA teachers, most of them unionized public school teachers told us the same thing: They need multiple data points about their students’ progress, from weekly spelling tests to determine if their students mastered last week’s “word list” to summative benchmarked test of students’ mastery of content.
Given that, I have to wonder why we continue to demonize testing. That’s focusing on the wrong question. The debate shouldn’t start with the statement that “data is bad.” Rather, it should by asking the question, “What’s data in what combination would make the biggest impact on student learning?”
Certainly, data isn’t the only thing a teacher needs. They also need feedback from peers, direction for their own professional growth based on classroom observations from their instructional leaders, time to work with colleagues to apply that information to their classroom plans and discuss progress for individual students, add principals who support this time for planning & reflection. Finally, they need lots of freedom in their classrooms to use all of that information to help students learn. Those things, combined with data, are the keys to improved student learning.
True, the VIVA teachers also point out weak links in our current use of standardized data in American education. They worry about the sophistication of the tests: are we sure we’re using the ideal measure of student content mastery and skill development? Do we have enough on-going review of students’ progress and peer or administrator input to increase the impact of classroom practices in short order, ideally tomorrow?
But, the notion that “high-stakes” tests (whatever that actually means) are undesirable in American education is pretty far from the viewpoints of the teachers I talk to. The notion that objective, system-wide baseline data is unhelpful was rejected by The VIVA Project’s initial teacher task force. Without much debate.
Yes, they have all kinds of suggestions for how to get more accurate, useful information about student performance, and how to change the way teachers and administrators apply that data to classroom plans and activities. But, the need for such data is just not controversial.
As a parent, I appreciate that my children’s teachers share this perspective with VIVA teachers. They are helpful in explaining the relevance of a nationally-normed standardized test in the mix with classroom content quizzes, observations from their peers and interim tests they give to my children as the school year unfolds.
It’s time for us to move on from ”high stakes” hysteria and start to listen to what teachers say they really need to maximize the impact of their instruction on each student. I am lucky to be able to rely on my children’s teachers and the VIVA Project participants to share their best ideas. We at VIVA will keep asking teachers for more ideas, and then help their suggestions become reality. Shouldn’t we all be doing that?
I had the privilege of spending a few days in a hotel meeting room with a bunch of classroom teachers. I felt I was a fly on the wall listening to a foreign language. I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to see the world through the eyes of a teacher (not a fly!)
The big take away is at once simple and utterly complicated: Teachers just want to excel at teaching. And, they feel responsible for their students’ success. And they care deeply about their students’ success. Yet, there was a load of frustration in the room. And lots of animosity toward “THE TEST”. And impatience with “THE PAPERWORK”. And mistrust of “THEM”.
I’ve been trying to reconcile their down right surly-ness with their incredible love of their profession. I think it comes down to this: in too many ways, classroom teachers aren’t actually ever considered professionals. It’s time we put a stop to that. Here’s what the teachers said:
- Of course we need to measure student’s progress, and their mastery of the content we teach them. But the tests used now are the wrong tests used for the wrong things.
- Of course we accept responsibility for our students’ achievements and want to be held accountable for our work. But the all or nothing approaches we take to teacher evaluation are not accurate, yet alone fair.
- Of course we want generous compensation for excellence in our work. But a few thousand dollars for a year or two is not nearly as valuable as actual authority to run our classrooms the way we know will help students the most.
This Fall, The VIVA Project is going to launch a major initiative to help teachers take back their own profession. We’re going ask classroom teachers all over the country to weigh in on accountability that actually measures what they and their students accomplish. And to help them explain the science of teaching in a way that anyone (including hostile politicians) can understand and measure. And to help teachers take a stand in favor of excellence, including the public investment in great training, well-equipped classrooms and time to be high caliber professional instructors great teaching requires.
It’s time to stop talking from extremes. It’s time to stop making teachers (or principals or superintendents) the evil-doer. Instead, individual teachers need our support and owe us their public accountability. We invite any American public school teacher to join together to create solutions. We non-teachers are anxious to get behind your ideas.
As the country tries to find a “magic bullet” to cure the educational ills, no one is asking the question about how come our children are struggling? What I mean is that I think the forces that have torn education apart are not solely in the system of education, rather the problem is in our cultural system. The more policy makers get involved in educational decisions, the worse education becomes. The more government controls and mandates, the less I can teach. Money needs to be spent on the social ills. Has anyone asked why so many students are having attention problems to the point that classrooms are being held hostage by their behaviors? Have any policy makers talked to the school psychology personnel? What is truly behind the severe changes we are seeing in the classroom, changes in children which are impacting on everyone’s learning? That is another BIG question I have as I think back on my day at school. I keep thinking, something is wrong here but I can’t quite pin it. My teaching time is being spent on more and more data collecting, meetings, interruptions, discipline, and fulfilling edicts from above that I have very little time to teach. How do we get the policy makers see what is happening. I guess I need to collect the data to show how much time I spend doing other things when I am supposed to be teaching!