To start, I’ll say that I’ve always believed in excellence. Personally, I’ve run
to improve marathon times, went back to get a Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative
Writing, I’ve hiked all Adirondack 46ers. I’ve these things, in part, because
they are part of the rich experience of my life, and because the have been a
part of my drive for self-improvement.
When I became acquainted with the new NY state rubrics for teacher quality in
the summer of 2012, I decided to look and focus on the highly qualified
criteria. I thought that it would be easy. I am after all a National Board
Certified teacher, am experienced in the classroom, have taught a wide range of
students, and teach at both the high school and college levels.
Then the year started. All around me were people saying work to be qualified. In
my district, we all gave a standing ovation when the elementary school teachers
were found to be qualified.
My teeth were on edge.
All of this fulfilled my worst perceptions of teachers, shared I think in large
degree with public perception–lots of teachers just willing to be average.
Notice even my own logical fallacy in replacing qualified with average.
But I still ground my teeth. As I’ve written before, I think that the new
evaluation systems are flawed. While we need ways to evaluated teachers and make
more successful students and more productive schools, this ain’t it. The
evidence about the efficacy value-added models are contradictory, at best. And,
without clear models of effective and highly effective teaching, what were we to
shoot for. However, I really had no choice in the matter. It was part of my
evaluation, and it was my job.
So I put my head down, tried to unclench my jaw, and got to work.
Learning the new rubrics reminded me off old best-practices, certainly. The
rubrics delineate some really good practice: working with parents, getting kids
to connect classroom content with the real world, collaboration with colleagues,
building based on current research. The highly effective ends of the rubric can
move teachers into the best pedagogical practices. Perhaps, one day, we’ll reach
At the same time I was being reminded of these practices, or saying, “I’m doing
this,” I was also learning. Learning the rubrics. For those of you who don’t
know or haven’t seen them, there are seven standards and under each standard,
there are at least three qualities, and in each quality, there are three or four
criterion that determine the quality. It was a lot to process. To understand
each, I had to sit and figure it out. What was being said? What did it mean?
What aspects of the practice were being defined? As I said above, I’ve got over
ten years in the business. For me to really wrap my brain around this, I spent
some time. The parallel that I came to understand was that I was again a first
year teacher navigation new and foreign curriculums, standards, expectations.
Further thinking on this comparison, I wasn’t far wrong. Not only was I learning
the new teacher rubrics, but also had to know new New York state ELA curriculum
and the new Common Core.
However, I’ve ultimately come to be satisfied with being an effective teacher.
I’m not playing the game. The more time that I do the more I become part of a
system that I find deplorable, that fails to respond to the significant crises
in education. I’ve done my portfolio. And I’m simply looking to place my toe
across the line of effective. In doing so, I get to keep my job, pay the
mortgage, and keep playing a guiding influence on the young people I serve.
Being effective means that I do good work in every class, my kids learn, they
get the experiences they need to do well on exams, and then later in college.
It’s not “highly effective” and I don’t care. I don’t need the words to make it
so. In making the choice to be effective, I’ve freed myself from stress, given
myself the freedom to pursue other professional duties, and focused more on what
I choose to focus on: reading research, working on my students papers, talking
with kids, thinking and then applying ideas into learning activities that my
kids will like and find meaningful.
There are two poles of response to my stance. one will come mostly from
administrators and parents: do your best because that’s what professionals do.
to this I say: Don’t ever challenge my professionalism. Professionalism is also
leadership, guidance, support, assistance, and respect. Little of any of that
has been given to teachers in the new APPR system, or at least by anyone who is
any good. Professionalism also means to begin with the end in mind. There is
little clear end. No one has any models of highly effective, and what clarity
does exist in the system is plain. The end is to get rid of teachers. Still yet,
the other side of the issue comes when teachers say “this takes away from my
students. I want to spend time teaching.” Careful, clearly the portfolio is a
time consuming venture, but I also think it’s code for the teachers who don’t
meet the standards. Portfolios force reflection, which many of us in the
profession need. But those who claim that it takes away from teaching time need
to be looked at extra careful. This is a tough thing to write, it won’t win me
any friends in hallways, but it is true.
I’m standing on a greased tightrope, set at a forty-five degree angle, strung
over a pit of hungry, carnivorous beasts. I’d don’t ask you to agree,
sympathize, empathize, but just to see the position I’m standing in.
There are those of you who will read this and say, “This is just one more
whiney, snot-nosed, entitled teacher resting in his tenure.” I’m not writing to
you. I won’t be able to teach you anything, and you can continue to think that
teachers are entitled, that gun control should continue to go unregulated, and
that Nixon was framed.
I’m writing to the community at large. The system in place is flawed. When
newspapers publish the results, don’t read it. Ignore it and the advertisers who
have adds on that page. Know that the system is flawed, that results are
subjective, and that districts that you think you can make comparisons between
really can’t be made. Don’t call your high schools and elementary schools
because of a ranking of a teacher. Don’t call for a new teacher because someone
is labelled effective. Don’t buy or sell your homes because of these rankings.
We are almost a year into the new system. There will changes. I get that this is
an evolving system. However, to use a cliche, don’t make us shoot for a moving
target. That’s not good education.
I would also call upon law makers both at the state level and nationally,
because of the money tied up in these systems, to make clear, standard
procedures and outcomes. Do not leave it to local districts to determine how to
produce evidence of teacher quality. Let us halt, immediately, until this
process becomes clear, systematized, standardized, coherent, tangible,
realistic, and understood by all.
When these things happen, then I’ll play the game. Then, I resume my drive for
showing excellence and document how I do that for children in my classroom. I’ll
work with and for the system, because it will be a good system that values its
educators as professionals, working to improve our country through the
individuals we serve.