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Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Soul of a Teacher

I think many ed reformers rightly say, "Kids can't wait." I agree.

There is nothing more depressing than realizing that any change that might be good will likely come AFTER your child ages out of elementary, middle or high school. Not to say that we don't do things for the greater good or the future greater good but as a parent, you want for your child now. Of course, we are told that change needs to happen now but the reality is what it might or might not produce in results is years off. (Which matters not to Bill Gates or President Obama because their children are in private schools.)

All this leads to wonder about our teachers and what this change will mean. A reader, Lendlees, passed on a link to a story that appeared in the LA Times about their teacher ratings. (You may recall that the LA Times got the classroom test scores for every single teacher in Los Angeles and published them in ranked order.)

This teacher in the story, Faye Ireland, retired after 45 years. She got a commendation when she retired 3 years ago (her name misspelled on the sheet). She has awards and thank-you letters and photos from past students. I'm not sure I know why she was included but I guess the LA Times went back several years for their rankings. She got "least effective". She says:

"I know what I did; I know I enjoyed it; I know I did what was best for the kids," said Ireland, who spent 45 years as a classroom teacher.

"But 10 years from now, somebody will see my name with 'least effective' beside it and wonder 'What was that person doing in the classroom?' "
Ireland e-mailed me Sunday, after she read my weekend column on teachers' responses to the ranking process. I'd sympathized with the embarrassment felt by low-rated teachers, and hoped the spotlight would lead to improvement.

But Ireland's public outing won't help her become a better teacher. "I'm retired. What can I do about this rating?" she said. It's simply an ugly coda to what she thought was a successful and satisfying career.

Ireland has no quarrel with The Times' series or calculations. "I just wish the chart had said 'least effective in raising test scores.' That would be fair. I could live with that."

She knows that her fifth-graders' scores in her final years at Los Feliz Elementary didn't make their teacher look good.

"I remember those classes," she said. "I had only five English-speaking students" one year. "I wanted to get [the others] into regular English classes before they went to middle school."

Ireland knew that if they landed in ESL programs in middle school, they would have few chances to take challenging academic classes. "Their parents worked with me like crazy, and we got them through all the things they had to do."

By the end of each year, "every one of my students was fluent in English," she recalled. "That's what I set out to do."

In a separate column in the LA Times one teacher said this about the LA Times project:

A "public stoning," one teacher called it. She was among those we labeled "most effective," but also among teachers laid off by the school district last year.

Another teacher, though, said this:

"I've been teaching for 20 years, and this is the first time I've gotten an idea of how my students have fared in my classroom and how I am doing as a teacher," wrote Sujata Duggal Landon, a "most effective" second- and third-grade teacher.

(Even though I happy this teacher received a great rating, I have to wonder about a teacher who doesn't know how students are doing in her classroom. I guess she means after they leave it but if they remain at her school, she could always ask teachers in the higher grades how they are doing. Teachers, you tell me, am I thinking of this from the wrong direction?)

Still others said:

Second-grade teacher Juan Antonio Rodriguez "felt shocked, incredulous, saddened, embarrassed and disappointed upon seeing" his average score. "However, the bottom line is that none of this was the fault of [my] students. They deserve better.... This will certainly make me look deeper into my teaching practices."

"Please exclude the poor and minority students from my classroom data, and I can assure you that I am a highly effective teacher — but then I would not have a job," wrote Octavio Licon Gonzalez, who landed in the bottom tier, among "least effective" instructors.

"If you're going to list the names of teachers as 'least effective' then let's do the same for parents," wrote Mario Loeza, a "most effective" fourth-grade instructor. "9 out of 10 times, if you show me a student who's failing, I can show you a parent that doesn't follow through."

The columnist, Sandy Banks, ended that column like this:

A poor score may humiliate a teacher now, but the alternative — quiet mediocrity, played out in private — shortchanges students who can't afford silence.

Anyone? For me, I just can't see humiliation as a method to get the best out of anyone. Would she say that for any child? Humiliate him now because it will be better for him for the future?

What really got me started on this thread was something that PurpleWhite, SPS teacher, wrote in another thread (I paraphrase):

When the School Board and MGJ congratulated us on being board certified and we saying how wonderful it was I could tell they probably didn't know much about it, and do you really want a teacher that adjust to students needs, looks at data (but NOT the same type of data they are talking about), and doesn't go lock-step robot like with everyone in the District. A Pacing Guide - what happens if you don't match the pacing guide?

I hate being treated like a cog in a machine - and guess what - the kids see through it too, and what kind of teacher do you think they prefer? A lock-step teacher or a creative, meeting their needs teacher? I have NEVER felt so much like big-brother is watching you, so disrespected as a professional, and so much like I hurt in my Soul as I have at Alignment meetings and anything having to do with the John Stanford Center. These meetings about how good the Alignment will be Downtown have been miserable - so far I haven't found one teacher that was excited about it, and lots of us are are just torn-up about it...this may drive good teacher out of this district.

The Superintendent is fond of saying that change is hard. It is. But we have curriculum alignment, a slow but steady disintegration of our alternative schools pedagogy, MAP testing and a new teacher contract that includes student test scores as one measure for teachers.

One of those things might be okay but really, I think it's a lot for teachers to absorb over a couple of years. Just the learning curve on how curriculum alignment will work, pacing guides and MAP seem like a lot to me.

It feels like teachers may be losing a little bit of why they became teachers and that little bit might be the most important thing they have to give to students.

18 comments:

Eric M said...

OK, out of the closet, I'm a teacher. 23rd year in the profession. National Board Certified. Went to the South Pole to work on a neutrino detector. Built a robot with kids that we flew on the NASA zero-gravity airplane. Built a cosmic ray detector with kids that we flew on a NASA high-altitude balloon. Won an NSTA national award. Hell, back when Seattle Schools had some interest in instruction, they made a movie about me called "Portraits of Exceptional Teachers." By all accounts, students really like my classes, even though they have to work rather harder than they're used to.

I'm working AGAINST the levy. If you're not a teacher, it may be impossible to understand how absolutely horrible that feels. That's a measure of how wrong things are in this school district. And I really like and respect most of the adults I work with. They stay late, do a lot of extra volunteer stuff, and try to put good things in front of their (often very challenging) students every day.

If I could get a job in another district, I'd take it tomorrow.

Though I do hate commuting.

seattle citizen said...

Yes, "with curriculum alignment, disintegration of our alternative schools pedagogy, MAP testing and a new teacher contract that includes student test scores as one measure for teachers", and with other things, like fewer staff (an inclusion model that seems to be used to justify cutting IAs and staff levels in SpEd and ELL), a NSAP that changes the demographics and, frankly, pulls diversity out of buildings...and lets not forget severe depression and mopiness at not being invited to that party with the carving stations (yum!) and those $100 gift certificates to Pallisades..
Teachers have all sorts of changes and the funny things is that they are still expected to make AYP and some yet-to-be-determined MAP benchmarks (well, SOME of the teachers; many, many teachers are in disciplines not tested and thus are not eligible to become Quality Teachers)

Almost seems like its set up to do a sweep: You all are unquality because you couldn't adapt to all the changes fast enough, so these test scores just aren't where we want them. "Sorry about not having texts for the aligned LA that will supposedly be assessed by the non-aligned formative MAP, HSPE etc. But tough luck, your MAP scores suck, you're outta here." (Note: For LA, there are these standards: National; HSPE; MAP; and SPS LA Dept adopted LA Standards)

You write, Melissa, that "It feels like teachers may be losing a little bit of why they became teachers and that little bit might be the most important thing they have to give to students."

The "little bit" IS the most important part, the part that impacts students the most. Yes, teachers teach standards, knowledge, skills, etc, but the "little bit" is the enthusiasm, the spark, the passion, the respect of one's bosses and the community...all these are being lost: Conformity; a drenching of spark; bosses who don't give credit but instead stand on the podium with the Our Schools Coalition and their survey (citing it, unbelievably, in the Times op ed); and the bashing of teachers by the single daily left in this town, so that some people really DO believe teachers will just remain unquality unless the sheriff who rode into town fixes things right...

Teachers have lost a lot, lately, and it keeps going. So it goes, said Vonnegut, but WE can turn it around. All these things, all these ridiculous "performance quality data alignments" can be stopped, REAL news about real teachers and educators can be spread to the far corners...

If we want.

seattle citizen said...

Eric, you could have your students build a neutrino-powered robotic high-altitude balloon this year, then next year get a job in Shoreline and commute above it all in your airship. You and George Jetson.

WV thinks public schools are being mancled by the reformistas.

Sarah said...

I've always hated it when the Superintendent and Board of Directors diminish legitimate reform concerns by stating- "Change is hard.". Very demoralizing towards teachers. Eric, people see past this District's babble and rhetoric. In the end, our Superintendent and Board of Directors are diminished.
Shame on the district for insulting us.

Mark Ahlness said...

In my 30th year as a teacher, I can only say thanks for this.

ParentofThree said...

Ah yes, the new district tag line, first heard after the vote of no confidence, "Change is hard." Or to change it up a bit, "Change is difficult."

First, let us remember that two years ago this country voted for the biggest change we have probably seen in our lifetime. We elected our first black president. I don't know about any of you, but for me that but that vote for change was not hard or difficult...but most welcome.

Now let's look at what team MJG is saying to us:

Close schools, displace students, some of which had already been displaced and promised they would not be displaced again.

Change is hard.

Move highschool students into a building set up for middle school, break promises on getting the school ready for them.

Change is difficult.

Overcrowed many schools, force teachers to teach classes that are over 30-35 students, and give them
$50 a student for the year.

Change is hard.

Dump austistic students at WSHS into a small windowless classroom and close the door.

Change is difficult.

Divert funds intended for lower performing students from the school back to headquarters.

Change is hard.

Pay a consultant nearly a million dollars to come up with a list of books students should read.

Change is difficult.

Pay nearly a million dollars to redesign the web site.

Change is hard.

Make students share textbooks, instead of making sure every school has enough books for every student.

Change is difficult.


And to help celebrate this change, throw a big ole party with carving stations and gift cards!

Change is good...if you happen to work in the John Standford Center.

The rest of us...teachers, students, administrators, well you know, it's all in the name of change.

seattle citizen said...

Change is hard, cold, and doesn't buy much: When the folding money is all sent to JSCEE, and all that's left for schools are the nickels and dimes, change is hard indeed

Could you spare a little change for the classroom, JSCEE? Spare change?

Will work for MAP scores...spare change?

ParentofThree said...

The vision of us all going to a board meeting with tin cups is just so tempting.

hschinske said...

You know how much tin cups COST?! I dunno about this ... ;-)

Helen Schinske

seattle citizen said...

And, if we all go with our tin cups asking for more classroom money, this will be used to bolster the advertising, uh, argument for the supplemental levy. It will be spun that classrooms NEED some more money, please, missing the point entirely that the money is there but spent unwisely for non-classroom use. The fact that much of the levy is already non-classroom money will be ignored completely.

WV, needing to relax and forget all this crazy stuff, wonders where the bariz.

Sarah said...

Let's not forget:

-Ed. Reform hasn't diminished the achievement gap, but we are spending millions.

Change is hard.

-Unlawful allocation of public assets that result in 1.8 million dollars coming out of the general fund.

Change is Hard

- Superintendent and Board of Directors that put public assets at risk due to ineffective policies and oversight.

Change is Hard

-The District paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for mishandling Federal Funds

Change is hard

The District has insulted me. But, I can voice my opinion this fall behind an election booth.

ma'am said...

SC What a great campaign visual for the No Levy campaign.
"Change is hard, cold, and doesn't buy much: When the folding money is all sent to JSCEE, and all that's left for schools are the nickels and dimes, change is hard indeed"

You could have a flow chart that says How your levy money will be sent: You could show a school building with nickles and dimes next to the JSCEE with stacks of dollar bills. Then have URL address for the No campaign at the bottom.

Short and sweet for voters that aren't very nuanced in the ways of the district. People hate the idea of money being squandered by the central admin.

Any graphic artists wanna give it a go?

seattle citizen said...

Yes, Megan, it seems like EVERYONE wants money to be spent in schools and not in administration. Money directed at students in the classroom.

This is one key to educating voters about this supplemental levy.

Dorothy Neville said...

"Yes, Megan, it seems like EVERYONE wants money to be spent in schools and not in administration. Money directed at students in the classroom.

This is one key to educating voters about this supplemental levy."
.

What people might then say. Well, they need the money, so why not vote YES and then work with the district to somehow force the money to be used in classrooms?

At first blush, that's a fair question. An influx of cash, no matter what, can't hurt, can it?

Well, several points to make in response:

This administration believes fervently in starving schools, in reducing any spending allocation at the school level in order to distribute it as it sees fit. Thus the performance management framework and the huge number of teacher coaches, etc. (And if they so believe that spending 11 million dollars in teacher coaches is a great thing to do, why hide it from the board and citizens as they did?)

Now some might ask (legitimately) Well, the centrally allocated money is eventually used for kids, yes? Many answers to that. First, the centrally administered money comes with extra overhead with staffing downtown. Second, they've been doing this for several years now (SE Initiative, etc) so where are all the results? Shouldn't we citizens, taxpayers and parents, and Board Members get clear accounting of how much they spent for each project, what the projects included and what were the results? We have gotten NONE of this. None! Third, shouldn't more stakeholders be part of the process for this allocation? There is no community engagement in this allocation of resources. Fourth, one of the allocations here is the multi-year curriculum alignment and textbook adoption, and that has proven to be highly unpopular with many parents, teachers and students.

So working with this administration in order to reallocate funds to classrooms will not work. Voting yes on this levy is a validation of the Performance Management Framework and the current method of centrally administered opaque spending without publicly available goals and results.

If the levy passes, the teachers contract now REQUIRES them to spend about $19M on NEW spending, the bulk being the 1% raise for all and the entire MAP testing for teacher evaluation work. (Which, from the SERVE document, includes extra Central Administration Staff, three positions, in order to administer!)

The bulk of the teachers contract promised spending is ONGOING expenses. Surely they will not reduce teachers salaries in the future and surely once begun, they will not dismantle the MAP for teacher evaluations process. So where will the future money for this come from? It will have to come from the 2013 Regular Operating Levy. So a vote for extra money now will REDUCE available spending for classrooms.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Megan, I like that idea.

What I have heard from past levies is that (1) well, there's always some waste but at least some of the money gets to the schools (2) once we vote the money in, we can change what it is used for and (3) just vote this one in and we'll demand more accountability.

The last one was said to me by several Seattle Council PTSA leaders. They promised to hold the Board's feet to the fire for accountability on where all those levy/bond dollars go.

And what happened? Zero, nothing, nada. The district is no more accountable than they ever were.

What is mystifying to me is that no one would let the City have money that isn't accountable but somehow if "it's for the kids", we just want the money and want to believe, against all reason, history and hope, that the district will use it for the right things AND be accountable.

That's a fairy tale.

seattle citizen said...

Well put Dorothy.

Voting "yes" on the supplemental levy puts the stamp of approval on continued spending downtown with little input, and with little clarity as to how, exactly, it has or will help students.

Voting "no" is the only way to send a strong message that the next state audit has to be clean; and that we need accountability for dollars already spent downtown before we give central administration one more dollar.

peonypower said...

The Soul of Teacher- wow- well my soul is feeling pretty bruised these days.

I decided to go into teaching after being a volunteer at Salmon bay for 6 years. I am now entering my fourth year of full time teaching. Before I started teaching I thought that teaching would be a good fit for me, and as it turns out "that little bit of something that made me want to teach" became the magic that helps me connect with some of the roughest students in our school and create a classroom that students value, enjoy, and find academic success in. At the core of things- I love being a teacher.

Now the bad- for the past 2 years I have seen our schools, students, teachers, and counselors maligned. I have seen support for innovative classes disappear, and an increase in workload for teachers who now must differentiate instruction but at the same time have every kid be at the same level by HSPE or MAP day.

I don't have the number of years of experience as Eric, but I can see that what is happening is leading to a slow but sure destruction of teaching. Especially of those teachers who are the "game changers." You know the kind of teacher that you visit 10 years later to thank them for making you work your ass off, because these teachers will not follow a set in stone pacing guide. They will instead use their day to day knowledge of their students and professional training to guide them in instruction because they know that it works. Over the past 3 months I have heard too many high level educators tell me that they are considering leaving the district or teaching altogether. What a tragedy it would be for students to lose people like Eric.

As for me, maybe I am naive or maybe just stubborn, but I have not given up on the idea that I can contribute to a robust and diverse public education system. I am not willing to give up a profession that I feel so strongly about. I am not willing to give up on my neighborhood school or my students.

What am I willing to do? I'm willing to organize, research, and fight for what I know is right.

seattle citizen said...

Today's Sunday New York Times Magazine section is "the education issue," and includes many interesting stories and other views of education (including Deborah Solomon interviewing Arne Duncan). The focus of the four main stories is technology as it relates to education.

One of the most interesting stories, to me, addresses "the soul of a teacher."

Does the Digital Classrom Enfeeble the Mind by Jaron Lanier, looks at the whole meta-technology aspect of life and questions how it changes how students process information:

"...My father would have been unable to “teach to the test.” He once complained about errors in a sixth-grade math textbook, so he had the class learn math by designing a spaceship. My father would have been spat out by today’s test-driven educational regime...
...At school, standardized testing rules. Outside school, something similar happens. Students spend a lot of time acting as trivialized relays in giant schemes designed for the purposes of advertising and other revenue-minded manipulations. They are prompted to create databases about themselves and then trust algorithms to assemble streams of songs and movies and stories for their consumption.
We see the embedded philosophy bloom when students assemble papers as mash-ups from online snippets instead of thinking and composing on a blank piece of screen. What is wrong with this is not that students are any lazier now or learning less. (It is probably even true, I admit reluctantly, that in the presence of the ambient Internet, maybe it is not so important anymore to hold an archive of certain kinds of academic trivia in your head.)
The problem is that students could come to conceive of themselves as relays in a transpersonal digital structure. Their job is then to copy and transfer data around, to be a source of statistics, whether to be processed by tests at school or by advertising schemes elsewhere.
What is really lost when this happens is the self-invention of a human brain. If students don’t learn to think, then no amount of access to information will do them any good...
...Roughly speaking, there are two ways to use computers in the classroom. You can have them measure and represent the students and the teachers, or you can have the class build a virtual spaceship. Right now the first way is ubiquitous, but the virtual spaceships are being built only by tenacious oddballs in unusual circumstances. More spaceships, please."