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.