Sunday, November 15, 2015

I Dared to Teach

 By - Dr. Mitchell Robinson

I received the following story from a teacher who wanted to share the ridiculous things that are going on with her/his evaluation process, but was worried about retribution from her/his administration. Sadly, these kinds of stories are becoming all too common as the pressures of the accountability era exert tremendous stress on all involved, as I've shared previously here. And the illogic and inconsistencies of our current evaluation systems for teachers are creating situations that truly defy credibility.

It's time to call this kind of behavior what it is: bullying. Plain and simple.

And it's beyond time to put a stop to these invalid, unreliable, and unprofessional methods of evaluating our practice as teachers, and let teachers teach.


Within a week after my observation, I was summoned to my post-evaluation conference.

During that meeting I was told that I was being moved from Track II (reserved for effective teachers) to Track III (reserved for teachers deemed to be ineffective and in need of help).
What happened on the day of my observation?  It was a glorious day of teaching and learning.

Students were actively engaged the entire class period.

What did students learn?  A lesson they will remember for the rest of their lives that was directly connected to the curriculum.

What did I do that was so wrong?

I dared to teach.

I used travel-sized tubes of toothpaste to teach students that their words matter so they need to think before they speak.

I tied it to curriculum through the use of reflective questions in which students citied claims and had to write clear statements to support said claims.

I tied it to curriculum by discussing with students the central idea or theme of the activity.

This is a lesson I have done with students almost yearly for over ten years. Call it a signature lesson that students write to me and say, “I’ll never forget that day in your class when we did the toothpaste activity.”

I had all of the wallpaper in my classroom. I had the behavioral expectations posted. I had my Seven Habits posters in multiple places. I had I CAN statements from the curriculum posted and made multiple references to them.

Because I dared to teach that lesson, I was accused of not teaching the curriculum. I was dressed down for daring to say, “The most important thing I have to teach you as your English teacher has nothing to do with nouns or verbs or adjectives or adverbs or even reading and writing. The most important thing I have to teach you is that your words have power and that they matter, so think before you speak.”

The powers that be didn’t want to hear when I told them that I did directly relate the lesson to the curriculum. I was informed that these are the days of accountability and that they just didn’t see the connection. Never mind that my students did.

Because I used toothpaste to teach a lesson, one of the observers thought he was in a science classroom. I had to inform the observer that I was teaching English in a classroom that had had multiple purposes over the year and that last year it had been used as a science classroom. I wonder if the science tables and chairs had him confused.

Because I dared to give students permission to use the word “stupid” in their answers on their reflection paper (I wrote as part of the directions, “You can tell me that this is the most stupid thing you have ever done in your entire academic career as long as you back it up”), I was accused of using in appropriate language with students.

Because of what I dared to teach at the end of the class session, that saying “Sorry” doesn’t put everything back the way it was before, I was accused of stalling and inventing something at the end of my lesson to take the class to the end of the class period. While it is true that I added the last part of the lesson on, I deliberately planned to do so when I considered the lesson for this year’s students, and I taught the last part of the lesson in every class.

Because I dared to take class time to answer in detail students’ questions about the next day’s special activity, I was accused of stealing instructional time from students.  Never mind that some students were still finishing up their reflections. Never mind that students asked. Never mind that this would be my students’ first time participating in the activity and I thought providing information ahead of time would alleviate some confusion on the day of.

I was informed that I was being moved to Track III so that the administrator could determine my goals for the year. I went into the evaluation process in good faith. I had all of the required paperwork completed. I had identified my strengths and my weaknesses. I had identified goals I want to work on, goals related to increasing student test scores, improving my use of assessment, and increasing regular parent contact. I understood that goals were supposed to be determined collaboratively between teacher and administrator. I found out that is true only for some people.

Because I entered into the evaluation process in good faith and because I dared to teach the lesson I did, I am now considered to be inferior to my peers. After twenty-five years of teaching and thirty years of effective or highly effective job evaluations in the district, I am where I am. I have to submit detailed lesson plans every Monday before 8:00 AM. I now have to show in my lesson plans that which is assumed that my peers do. I have to detail everything I do, the time I attach to each activity, the standards each lesson addresses (no more than two I CAN statements for each class for each day--I have three preps a day, well, actually four because one of my classes requires a very different delivery of the same content than my other classes), where each lesson fits on what is called a depth of knowledge wheel to prove that I am taking students to higher level thinking responses, and my instructional strategies for each activity.

I have to do all of this until I am told that I can stop. Who knows when that will be?

Because of this, I am afraid to ask questions to clarify exactly why I am in this situation and how I get out of it and when.  I fear retribution. I no longer trust a system that has been a part of my career for thirty years.

Yet, if my career survives this, I will dare to go into the evaluation process in good faith next year and I will dare to teach the same lesson again.

I will cross my fingers and dare."

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