Um, Duh.

 I saw this OpEd piece from the L.A. Times a few days ago and have been thinking about it ever since. (Okay, in reality, I thought, “Um, duh…of course things would work better if we listened to teachers,” which was rapidly followed by the thought, “Sweet, something else to blog about!” Let’s be real, the pressure of 31 posts in 31 days is no joke.)

Here’s the link. Take a moment, get some Sunday coffee and enjoy. I shall wait patiently. (Read: flip through the new Anthropologie catalog.) Because I am a patient person. (Untrue.)

I heart the first sentence. “Great teachers aren’t born — they evolve.” I heart this idea because it embraces the reality that good teachers are continuously reinventing themselves as they change, their students change and education changes. I know sometimes we may dig in our heels and kick and scream about change (as many love to mock us for doing), but usually that happens when our expertise is being overlooked. It’s hard to buy in to something that will change your entire day and way of doing things when no one has the courtesy to listen to your input. At. All. Anyway, I love this first sentence because not only does it imply that teachers are constantly learning alongside their students, but it also implies that experienced teachers are not dinosaurs to be ignored. That maybe, just maybe, they have something of value to say after their years of evolving. And maybe, just maybe, if we don’t like what they have evolved into, we need to take a better look at the system we put them through. (Powers That Be and Guys In A Suit Who Have Never Taught But Make All The Decisions, I’m looking at YOU!)

Then the article begins to discuss observations and evaluations. Um, I don’t know about you, but “getting observed” was the most ridiculous exercise ever. Ridiculous. You see, first there was the pre-observation meeting, where we had to discuss our lesson plan. (Translation: the meeting that was re-scheduled at least twice despite me showing up on time FOR EVERY ONE and waiting around for twenty minutes only to be told in passing what I should teach for my observation because of course I wasn’t going to get to choose the lesson or subject matter myself.) Now, I understand why formal observations should occur. And I had no problem being observed. In fact, I wanted more people in my room – come, give me feedback, what are you seeing, how can I get better, did you like my read aloud? ANYTHING! Anything more than a required twenty minute visit that ended in a very dissatisfying “S” for satisfactory and no real, useful feedback. (Or maybe the “S” really stood for “sucker” as in, “you thought you were going to get thoughtful feedback, sucker?” ) (Or perhaps “S” was for “see ya later” as in, “I have a mountain of paperwork and this is clearly not my priority, so see ya later!”)

But back to the article.

Get this – the article even suggests that perhaps, just maybe, in an ideal world that TEACHERS should also get to evaluate the ADMINISTRATORS they work with on a daily basis.

Hot damn! And while I would want to use it as an opportunity to get out all of my frustrations, I know that professionally speaking, and I would be speaking professionally because I wouldn’t want to lose the privilege, this makes sense. Administrators are doing good things. And just like teachers, I’m sure they would like a little acknowledgement. And hopefully, just like teachers, they are looking for opportunities for growth and who better to help with those suggestions than the people who work with them each and every day. Because contrary to popular belief, we aren’t wee peons who are there to serve…we are knowledgeable co-workers, engaged in the same daily struggle to do what is best for children. I like to imagine administrators and teachers involved in a very elaborate dance together – kind of like Dirty Dancing. You know the party where Patrick Swayze tells Jennifer Gray that “This is your dance space, and this is my dance space”. And then there’s this whole thing about “No spaghetti arms.” Anyone else see the connection? Two individuals supporting one another? Through a difficult dance? No? I’ve had too much coffee? Not enough sleep? Too many re-runs?

Man, this post is getting long. I should really stick to the article.

Other bits of genius:
* The idea that excellent veteran teachers peer coach those who are new to the profession. Um hello? Brilliant much? I had to harass a colleague of mine into serving as my unofficial mentor. I’m not sure she was pleased about it, but I learned a lot from her whether she wanted to teach me or not.

* Here’s another finger-snapper: Teachers should be provided with professional development throughout their careers. Professional development that is TEACHER-DRIVEN. Shut the front door! You mean, I might actually be articulate and professional enough to identify my own areas of weakness, ask for help with them and then, gasp, receive said help. What a brilliant system. I mean, at first, I might miss the old professional development what with all the obligatory trust falls and power point slide shows during which I was able to grade many spelling tests, but hey! Getting to have a say in my own learning…pretty snazzy, friends, pretty snazzy.

(I just looked at Mr. Mimi and said, “Dude, my post is getting long.” And he sort of snorted, rolled his eyes and walked away. What does that mean?)

I shall now take the hint and wrap this up.

Final bit of brilliance: The notion that teachers should have a say in the hiring of their colleagues. Not THE say, but A say. As I have said before, and will say many times, there are too many people both in and out of the world of education who only want to hear teachers speak when they are a) singing some sort of song accompanied by an acoustic guitar, b) telling a story of their precious little students as they lovingly stroke their macaroni necklace or c) discussing the many ways in which one can use toilet paper tubes for various arts and crafts projects. Long story short, few want to hear us say anything of substance. Or maybe I’m just jaded by my own experience and need to get out more. All I know is, that at my school, individuals who attended demonstration lessons often exhibited less than professional behavior (I know you might be sick of me, but totally click on that link because the story is a DOOZY!) I don’t think this is a whole lot to ask, or difficult to implement but boy, would it make a difference in the places where it’s not currently happening.

In no way do I mean to belittle this article, because I agree with so many of the suggestions, but really, I just want to hold the paper high above my head, shake it and maybe wave a fist around shouting, “THIS IS COMMON SENSE PEOPLE!”

Clearly, I’m feeling better if I am up to fist shaking.

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  • I really like that this union does want better teacher pay and smaller class sizes, but explains why and also suggests other things that would not necessarily make life easier for teachers. I love reading that they aren't concerned with making teaching easy- they're concerned with making it BETTER. That, to me, is the kind of union that works right.

    Unions aren't evil, but I know ours is so concerned with not being held accountable in unfair ways, but they refuse to suggest something better and that is very frustrating to me. We SHOULD be held accountable and pushed to learn and improve.

    Thanks for passing that along! I'm with you- they had some great ideas!

    January 10, 2010 at 5:38 pm
  • I love everything about this post! In Ontario, we have a very strong union and a lot of what you have discussed is getting done. My board has a mandatory mentor program for teachers in the first 2 years and is conducting training programs for experienced teachers to learn how to be an effective mentor. I even was able to attend a 2 day workshop with Bruce Wellman who wrote "Mentoring Matters" last year.

    The idea of evaluating admin? Brilliant.

    January 10, 2010 at 5:38 pm
  • I agree with 'evolving'… I'd say, after about five years, I'm finally starting to feel like I'm a GOOD teacher. I think my move to K helped too. 🙂

    January 10, 2010 at 10:10 pm
  • Look at the LA Times article about charter schools in today's paper. 9% of kids in LA are in charter schools and hard data shows that none of them are Special Ed with learning disabilities or ELL kids. "Um, Duh." I could raise test scores if I didn't have to teach special ed kids or kids who didn't speak English! I give kudos to Green Dot for at least trying to teach the same kids that were already there at Locke!

    January 10, 2010 at 10:10 pm
  • Excellent post, Mrs. M.

    I liked the editorial, too. However, it's obvious from reading some of the comments (to that editorial) that it doesn't matter what is said…what matters is who says it. Public education gets bashed daily in the press…and the Union gets blamed at least as often.

    The most important thing in that article is something I have been telling our administrators for decades…"NO ONE WANTS POOR TEACHERS IN THE CLASSROOMS OF OUR (or any other) DISTRICT." Not parents…not administrators…and certainly not teachers (unions).

    We need good evaluation processes with trained administrators doing the evaluating. We need tools to help identify teachers weaknesses and more tools to help them improve. If there are teachers who are not succeeding and, in fact, doing educational damage to students, then they should be given the chance to improve and, if they don't, they should be removed from their classroom.

    It really is a team effort…parents, teachers, students as well as administrators, and the general public.

    All I can say is…you better go back to the classroom after your dissertation is done and after your baby is born (and you have the time to enjoy the little one for a while before you start to deal with everyone else's kids again). We need your voice out there.

    Oh…and thanks for sticking up for experienced teachers. We do have things to add…When I taught kindergarten a couple of years ago, one of my former 6th grade students was teaching in the room next door. It had been 30 years since I taught kindergarten and the curriculum had, indeed changed. My former student helped me immensely to regain my bearings and do a good job. She also said that she appreciated the knowledge that I provided as to what kindergarten used to be (and, IMHO, what it should still be). We worked together, growing from the strengths each of us brought to the job at hand.

    I like to tell my colleagues that I'm just a first year…for the 34th time.

    January 10, 2010 at 10:10 pm
  • I love your post. In the drive to reinvent curriculum, administrators throw the baby out with the bath water.

    I wish that observations were spontaneous. Just come in and see what's going on in a classroom. They also should be more often in case the teacher is a little off his or her game on a particular day. Scheduled observations are just stressful and forced. It's little better than teaching a mock lesson for a job interview.

    January 10, 2010 at 10:10 pm
  • I work in one of the top 30 biggest school districts in the country. Thankfully, we have an awesome union, so we already have teacher mentoring (for the first year), tons of faculty directed PDs, and school committees that contain admin, teachers, and parents and oversee hiring. What I would love to see, however, is re-vamping our evaluation process and allowing me (and the other teachers) to evaluate our administrators. This is our current principal's 2nd year at our school. Either the district doesn't care or isn't noticing the mass transfer requests that are coming out of my building. If we could evaluate admin and they could accept and use feedback, this reaction might not be the reality.

    January 10, 2010 at 10:10 pm
  • I love this post also! (I actually recently finished an eval on my principal, but it was his "evaluation year" so I don't know if that counts.) But anyway! Thanks for all of your inspiration… you help me get through the day!

    January 10, 2010 at 10:10 pm
  • Very interesting read and absolutely common sense. I really think that if teachers were better motivated with an increased salary or some other incentive, that it might affect the teacher attrition rate and also motivate them to work harder in their classrooms. I do think that my school does a good job allowing teacher input in professional development, but they seriously need to work on other areas. I often feel like they just say they want our input, but then totally ignore it. Classroom observations are a joke at my school. They come in for twenty mninutes unannounced and then leave me some evaluation sheet in my box telling me that my word wall isn't up to date, my calendar math is behind, and I need to update my editor's checklist! WTF? Is that really why they just spent 20 minutes in my classroom? To make sure my walls were covered in crap. Hello, how about what I just taught my students for 20 minutes and how effective or ineffective that was!?

    Sheesh…sorry. lol

    January 10, 2010 at 10:10 pm
  • You've got your finger on the pulse of many hearts in education. We do evolve, if we don't we get left behind and become that teacher who still uses the ditto machine and the same lessons from 20 years ago. In order for teachers to become better at what they do they need to be observed, by not only administrators but fellow teachers. There needs to be useful feedback which can help teachers to change what they do and how they do it. One must remember that the evolution of effective teachers is the result of various and ongoing interactions (positive and negative) with their environmental stimuli. It could also be said that in order for a teacher to evolve, they need to be open to change.

    January 11, 2010 at 12:31 am
  • I, too, agree with most of what the article said. A few years back, we had to observe two collegues and have them observe us. The kind of feedback we got was far more valuable than any "formal observation."

    Oh, and in my first teaching job? I didn't get a mentor, either. My "new teacher induction" at that place consisted of walking into the classroom and having the sub who'd been teaching there before me point to one corner. "I think the teacher's edition is over there somewhere." I was on my own.

    My current district is much better, but I think some of that common sense needs to come into play. How many hours do we waste in professional development that is never used?

    I'd love to be able to evaluate administrators. I'm lucky enough to have great ones now, but I've had some doozies in the past.

    January 11, 2010 at 12:31 am
  • I too love how this article was written by a teacher's union. In my experience, the union protects bad teachers because "they are dues-paying members, too". They are all about protecting themselves, but I think they should be looking out for the profession, especially how we can all improve. My union does get us a great contract, but they nitpick at curriculum improvements instead of trying to make our schools better.

    I would SO love the opportunity to evaluate my principal. It would be hard not to feel vengeful, but she does nothing. And meaningful teacher evaluations would be fabulous. Here in PA we just have to be "adequate"; I don't want to be "adequate", I want to be spectacular! But that would require principals walking around the school to see what teachers are actually teaching, or how my grade partner comes over to my room five times a day to ask how to teach something (even though we've been teaching together for four years).

    Do you have any National Board Certified teachers at your school? We have none in my whole district (probably because there is no extra compensation for going through the hassle). I think the whole thing is overrated. At my first district, they paid an extra $5K for five years if you earned National Board Certification. We had two teachers in my school who did, both in my grade (second). One had been teaching for over ten years, but they gave me – a second year teacher – her biggest problem student (on top of three other Big Boys and a certifiable Sociopath) because she couldn't handle her, and I could yell at her in Spanish. NBCT is just a lot of busy work that, IMHO, doesn't mean the recipient is a better teacher than anyone else.

    The last suggestion to revamp college programs is an absolute MUST. My classroom management course (in 1996) spent 8 weeks learning about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality test; unless I was going to administer it to each student, how was that going to help me? Hint: it didn't. Everything I learned was on the job. Thank GOD my school had daily professional development incorporated into the school day, because that is where I learned how to run guided reading groups, plan my day, teach "new math", prepare for standardized tests, and handle difficult students. When I moved to fifth grade four years later, I was a little lost using a basal and traditional math (and teacher's manuals), but I figured it out. I couldn't imagine being a brand new teacher without the kind of support I had – I would have drowned. I don't know how new teachers do it.

    Sorry this is so long, but this is like a pet peeve of mine, how to make schools better!! I hope you don't mind if I borrow the link to the article – thank you for sharing it with us!!! Glad you are feeling better. =)

    January 11, 2010 at 2:26 am
  • I totally agree with the majority of this article. I work in one of the largest districts in Texas. I have been a mentor for new teachers for several years and we keep the same "mentee" for two years. It's a fantastic program for our new teachers. I ABSOLUTELY agree with teachers having the ability to evaluate our administration rather than a campus supervisor. These supervisors aren't in our buildings day after day we are and we know what is going on. This article was chock full of "common sense" information, but I wonder if those who need to read it actually do.

    January 11, 2010 at 2:26 am
  • What wonderful ideas. So simple and makes soooo much sense, so it would probably never happen! Love, love, love the admin evaluations! What an awesome idea! I really like people coming in my room and seeing that I do teach and my kiddos are working. I'd enjoy some real feedback too – I'm all for new and better ideas! I hate when they come in and give the kids the answer that I'm having them work to figure out. Thanks for ruining that for them!

    January 11, 2010 at 5:20 pm
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    January 11, 2010 at 8:48 pm
  • One of my super colleagues is living the dream: Beth is a veteran teacher who is now a literacy coach, and she models how to teach reading/writing. Through a teacher sign-up system, teachers specify exactly what they would like to see. Beth goes into the classroom and customizes her teaching to demonstrate effective ways to instruct what the teacher would like to improve upon. Guided practice follows Beth's minilesson. The administration allows the teacher to receive one PLU (Professional Learning Unit)for each hour the literacy coach is in his/her class, and they can sign up for up to four visits during the year. Common sense, heh?

    January 12, 2010 at 12:17 pm
  • Teachers should be provided with professional development throughout their careers. Professional development that is TEACHER-DRIVEN. Shut the front door.I also agree with you.

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    January 21, 2010 at 12:39 pm

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