Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What Do the "Reformers" Really Care About?

It would be possible, really it would be, to develop a merit pay plan that most teachers would find fair and tie it into a more rigorous and balanced evaluation system. So imagine that such a plan were proposed by the AFT or the NEA or, God help us, the UFT right here in NYC. And imagine that it were rejected. I wonder what the "reformers" would give as their reason.

Check out this piece at Joanne Jacobs and please do read my comments.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Ariel Sacks Is Right about One Thing, at Least

Namely, that we as teachers need to have more say in how we are evaluated. I've blogged here about teacher evaluation (here and here) because, let's face it, one formal observation a year doesn't really cut it. And if merit pay is going to happen, I sure as hell don't want it to be based on nothing more than one test that even the most bright, thoughtful, motivated student can blow for little or no reason.

Evaluation shouldn't be something that's "done to" teachers and it shouldn't be a process in which we are at the mercy of one principal or AP. It should be based on a variety of factors that are directly within our control--i.e. not just test scores, but professional development, collaboration with colleagues, curriculum writing/development, contribution to extracurricular activities, tutoring, etc. Any teacher who gets that involved in the life of a school is probably no major disaster in the classroom, anyway. Likewise, teachers who can't be as involved at various times--new baby, health concerns, etc.--but can nevertheless still teach good lessons and help their students should get a pass, too.

A system like this wouldn't just be more flexible, more balanced, more fair--it would be much harder to "game," either by those (very few) truly lazy and incompetent teachers or by vindictive principals. A teacher who really busts his or her butt to make the whole school a better place for all kids would be almost impossible to "get rid of"--as well it should be. We should protect those teachers from the winds of change and the whims of circumstance. That truly would be putting children first.

I guess maybe I should get serious about posting more on this subject. I have a lot of thoughts on it. And, as always, I want to hear yours. And, Ariel, if you're back, throw yours in--what would be a fair way to evaluate teachers? What should make up the evaluation pie? And why are people so obsessed with getting rid of "bad" teachers? How many teachers seriously do "read the newspaper all day"? Jeez, my students hate when I put on a movie because I'm guaranteed to make them answer hard questions about it, and I stop the movie every 37 seconds to make them notice something or think about something. I seriously don't buy this epidemic of newspaper-reading. But I digress.

Comment away.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Weeding Out, Part 2

So I said I'd explain my resistance to THE PROGRAM in this post. So here it is.

THE PROGRAM does not, in my view, prepare students well for high school. It does not acquaint them with a wide body of literature that is widely considered to be excellent. Perhaps worst of all, in my view, kids don't get much of an opportunity to read texts deeply and share understanding of them as a group. And I'll be frank: I just don't like it. I don't like trying to classroom-manage it, I don't like the touchy-feeliness of it, I can't relate to it, I don't agree with philosophical underpinnings, I Just. Don't. Like. It.

Which is why Principal X is kind of driving me crazy right now, because as I get to know him/her a little better, I have to admit that s/he isn't so bad. S/he's backing off some of the micromanagement--possibly, egads, at the behest of our CL--and after a couple of one-on-ones with him/her recently, I've gotten a sense from him/her like s/he really cares about and respects what I'm doing, even if it's not 100% with THE PROGRAM. I was discussing an aspect of my current unit with him/her today and s/he was totally okay with it. I'm not saying I'm ready to become Principal X's number-one fan, but maybe some of my feelings toward him/her really are not personal--they're all bound up in my anxiety about and distaste for THE PROGRAM.

(Also, just a side note: If you're new here, Principal X is not a hermaphrodite--I'm just not identifying his/her gender as a privacy move.)

So what to do now? Swallow my serious misgivings about THE PROGRAM because Principal X might just be a decent human being, or stick to my guns and, so to speak, weed myself out?

Thank heavens I have six or seven months to make up my mind.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Weeding Out

Well, last week was a good week with the kiddies. We're right where I need them to be, now. I'm almost done with a second round of reading assessments and some of the kids have already jumped a level--yay! I had an especially fun lunchtime with the kids on Friday and a restful weekend, so I was, on Sunday, more or less ready to face a new week. Even a meeting that could have been totally soul-sucking this afternoon wasn't so bad.


Have you ever Googled "Teachers College Reading and Writing Project sucks"? I have, in a moment of pique on Sunday afternoon, and came up with this from your friend and mine, Norm Coleman, over at Ed Notes Online: "Weeding Out." I think this may be something of an Ed Notes classic, because it's still quite high in the Google results 2+ years after its initial publication. I suppose my mention of it here speaks for itself, but I'll come right out and say that I feel like I'm weeding myself out. I just don't want to believe in the new program. I know, I know--if I try to leave, even if I find another school that doesn't have this program, leadership changes all the time, and there's nothing stopping a new principal from instituting something else I don't believe in. Which kind of bothers me, too. So I don't know.

I'm really trying to be positive. Hardly anything negative (or positive, really, but no news is good news) has actually been said to me. Principal X really is not a negative, nasty person like some principals are; on the contrary, s/he seems genuinely cordial, pleasant, and not totally unreasonable. I don't want you to think that I'm working for some ogre. Indeed, in some ways, Principal X is actually an improvement over our old principal. So maybe I should, like I said in my last post, "get with the program," because really, if I take the long view, maybe my working life would improve?

But it isn't that simple. At least not the way I see it. In my next post, I'll explain why.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How Long Does It Take to Make 100 Copies?

If you made them yourself, they would take 10 or 15 minutes. Maybe. And that includes copier warm-up time.

If you have to follow the Morton School's bizarre, micromanaged "copy request" system? 5 school days and counting, kids. Not 5 calendar days. 5 school days. That's 8 calendar days (because of Columbus Day). 5 days AND COUNTING, meaning that the copies I requested a week ago today are not ready yet.

Already one set is irrelevant. Pretty soon, the others will be too. I would go ahead and remove them from the copy request folder, except, um, the copy request folder has disappeared. That's right! IT'S GONE. I suspect it's in the trunk of Principal X's car.

*commences ritual head-banging*

Monday, October 12, 2009

I'm Not with the Program

The messages I’m getting at work are so unclear, and I have half a mind to “turn myself in” to Principal X. I would like to sit down and admit to Principal X, I am not with your program. If you didn’t know before, you know now, and I just want to know what you want me to do so I don’t get fired.

The school year is now over a month old. Maybe Principal X doesn’t know I’m not with the program—that’s one possibility. Principals have many responsibilities, and one teacher at the Morton School, particularly one who shows up and controls her class every day and has pretty bulletin boards out in the hall, may simply not command much of a principal’s attention. Then again, Principal X has my fabled curriculum map. I know this is true because, during a chat, I saw him/her looking at it. So, presumably, Principal X knows that I’m not with the program. That’s one possibility. And that has two sub-possibilities. One is that Principal X knows and doesn’t care. The other is that Principal X does know, and does care, but hasn’t done anything about it yet. And THAT has two sub-possibilities: That Principal X won’t do anything about it, ever, or that Principal X will.

It’s that very last one that has me worried. I’m pretty angsted out about work right now, in case you can’t tell, and I’m angry because I seem to be so anxiety-ridden for all the wrong reasons. The kids? Fine. Nice. Sweet. Most of them working hard. More or less as under control as thirty thirteen-year-olds are going to be. I’m teaching them stuff, I’m pretty much where I’m supposed to be. But EVERYTHING ELSE has me biting my nails. You would think that the kids really constitute the vast majority of THE JOB, and that should be the case, but it isn’t.

I’m afraid to request copies of anything because I’m afraid I’ll have tipped off Principal X to my not being with the program. I mean, Principal X reads EVERYTHING that’s submitted for copying. Reads it, I mean reads every word. Principal X won’t allow something to be copied if s/he does not like it. S/he will simply give it back to you and “suggest” another way of doing it. This means that I’m sneaking around getting copies made however I can and winging the rest.

And that’s not the least of my problems. I felt so confident and happy about my curriculum, but now I feel like I have to tear it down and start over again. Except I can’t. The ball is already rolling. I sent home the damn thing to the kids and their families on the first day of school. I’m already halfway through my second unit. And this current unit is very much NOT with the program. The next two units will more or less be with the program, but I’ve got to stay under the radar for maybe three more weeks. And really, why should I have to tear it down and start all over again? If this was not acceptable, I should have been told in June, when I submitted my curriculum map. I should have been given something else and told that I HAD to do it that way. I wasn’t.

And all this makes me angry because I am not a bad teacher and this is not bad material. These are solid, engaging, absorbing lessons with lots of real-world connections and deep thinking for the kids to do. I’m really big on challenging the kids. We had a couple of really excellent periods last week, lots of discussion and digging deep (literally…I wish I could tell you more!) into the material. But it’s not, well, “with the program,” as I keep saying. And it makes me angry that I feel like I have to hide this good work.

Well, if you want good news, read NYC Educator. I’m trying to keep my guestblogs over there light and funny. This is my deep dark corner where I can rant about what’s pissing me off. Sorry, I guess.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Reform Fatigue

I said pretty much what I wanted to say in my comment in response to this post over at Bridging Differences, an absolutely brilliant blog that you all should be reading if you're not already. Deborah Meier and Diane Ravitch demonstrate above all that two intelligent people can hold a debate that is both lively and respectful, divergent and intellectually useful. But this post in particular helps to explain a little bit why "reform" is not as fun as it sounds. Please read all the comments (not just mine) to get a sense of why this post might be speaking to me, and certainly others, right now.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

"Please Implement As Per Memo"

When you read a directive such as the above, you naturally look for the memo, right?

Of course, you know what's coming here...


*bangs head against wall again*

Friday, October 2, 2009

Tip: Tell a Teacher When You Plan to Assign a Coverage to Him/Her...

...instead of just hoping she GUESSES that she has a coverage and GUESSES which teacher she's supposed to show up for.

Then, when teacher guesses WRONG, do NOT yell at her.

Just a fun, handy tip!!!

*bangs head against wall*