A Poem about Standardization and Teacher Control
You do your walkthroughs and I can see
You’re not a colleague—You are judging me.
You mark off your checklist but you miss the best.
To know we are learning even with the mess.
We draw, we paint, We make mistakes.
We’re learning in ways you cannot grade.
You see the start but don’t stay to the end
To see how proud we are of the artwork we made.
So grade me, boss, and see what you see.
It’s what my kids think that matters to me.
4/29/14 Written by an anonymous art teacher in a public elementary school after the fourth such “walkthrough” observation in the school year.
I composed this poem to express my exasperation with a public education system that increasingly values hierarchy and control rather than creativity and collaboration. The building principals in the school district where I teach use “Learning Walks” as a tool to evaluate teacher effectiveness. It is a quick and efficient means of collecting data on the teachers they supervise. The name “Learning Walk” is somewhat of a misnomer because the questions focus the observation on teacher behavior and not on student learning.
On a “Learning Walk” the principal uses a standardized form for all teachers. The form is a one size-fits-all checklist, a tool to assess whether the teacher is complying with mandated protocols and expectations for content delivery. These protocols include things like “Word Walls and “I can…Statements” which all teachers are required to display in their classrooms. In addition to these visual cues, the teachers are required to use certain content-delivery strategies that have rigid expectations for student behavior in the classroom. My school is K-6 and the behavioral expectations are uniform for all children.
The content delivery strategies I am expected to follow come directly out of a book called Teach Like a Champion. These strategies have names like “No Opt Out,” “100 Percent” and “Cold Call.” The implicit assumption (for which I have seen no real evidence) is that if the teacher complies with these content delivery strategies and administrative expectations, then student learning will be the result. It is a top-down strategy of control that undermines teacher autonomy, creativity, and collaboration. In my school this has added to an increasingly oppressive atmosphere of coercion and control over teachers. The focus on rigid uniform expectations, control and standardization runs counter to what we know from developmental psychology about what human beings need to learn and grow.
On this particular day my principal sat in the back of the art room and went through her checklist. As she checked off the boxes on her form, she wrote short comments such as positively noting “Great job w/your I Can Statements” and more critically observing the following: “Students talking out, even w/hand in air. You seem to be talking over them.” She didn’t respond to the content or meaning of the lesson I taught. Nor did she see what the children actually created or stay to find out how they applied the new drawing strategy I introduced. After ten short minutes, she slipped out of the classroom. Later that same day I got my copy of the completed checklist in my mailbox. It left me with feelings of anger and powerlessness in a system that refuses to acknowledge the complexity and subtlety of what teachers actually do.
April 29, 2014