Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Maybe I'm Being Cynical

It has occurred to me that the farther away a person is from a classroom, the more critical he or she is about the education that occurs in that classroom. Building-level administrators often find it difficult to get into the classrooms to see what is going on there. So they assume that nothing good is happening. Central office administration is farther away still, so they naturally know that nothing good is happening. Board members avoid setting foot into the buildings, so they are convinced that nothing good is happening in the buildings, which proves that nothing good is happening in the classrooms. State legislators will never lower themselves to be seen in a public school because they hold schools in complete contempt and loathe that schools exist.

Yes, I'm probably being cynical. But it seems that way.

Consider, as an example, the movement to standardize instruction across the state. That is essentially what the universal appraisal project is set to accomplish. Every teacher will be measured by the same standards, meaning that every teacher has to do the same things to be considered effective. That just doesn't hold true.

There have been teachers throughout time that have, in spite of their leadership and the cries of outrage across the country, they have done a fantastic job teaching kids.

When I was in the classroom, before I'd ever heard the word "rubric," I was using a rubric to assess my students' writing. It was organic, in that it changed as the class moved through the year, shifting emphasis to what we studied and what was emphasized in class. The rubric had three main areas (as opposed to six as in the 6+ traits--I guess I was probably failing there): Content, Format, and GUMS--that's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, and Sentence Structure. (Maybe it should have been GUMSS.) The rubric was working. Later in the year, the content component broke down into organization, voice, and ideas. And my students learned to write. No kidding--I used to get letters from college professors thanking me for teaching my kids how to write.

Then my department chair announced that central office had decided we should all use one rubric to assess writing. There was no listening. My organic rubric was dead. It had to go. There was no way that what I was doing could be equal to what they were bringing to the table. My assistant superintendent did not know what I was doing, but was convinced that I wasn't dong anything of value. My department chair didn't know what I was doing, but had been told that I wasn't doing anything of value. So the insanity ruled, because they were far away from the classroom and in positions of power. And I can tell you my students suffered. It was madness. I did the best I could do with their lock-step rubric, but it was not responsive to students. Their rubric demanded that every student be alike. Then those ladies came back and told me I was to differentiate instruction.

Can you see the insanity?

Listen. If a teacher is doing a good job, leave him or her alone. Reminds me of the Pink Floyd chant, "Hey, Teacher, Leave those kids alone." Let's change it..."Hey, Moron, leave good teachers alone."

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