Writing my way through the school year!

Posts tagged ‘teacher accountability’

Are Teachers Too Tame?The Hijacking of Public Education!

Public education  has been hijacked.
It has been taken hostage by “ed reformers”, standardized test creators, and “teacher accountability”.

How did this happen to a profession full of intelligent, passionate, outspoken people?

Are we uninformed?

 Are we choosing bliss via ignorance?

Why is this happening?READ MORE

I have some thoughts…


Your Mission, If You Choose to Complete It…

The other day, I received an email.  These were the directions: Between now and Jan.24, every instructional staff person will visit a classroom for no longer than 10 minutes during PLC or planning time.  Bring a sheet of paper and something to write with to your classroom visit. Once you enter the classroom, select a location that does not interfere with the teacher’s instruction and copy down the first 5 questions you hear (word for word) the teacher direct to the class, small group, or individual student…Once you have your 5 questions, you may leave.

MY first question was, “What now?” Sometimes, I feel  like  a member of the Mission Impossible crew instead of a teacher.  Every week, I get another email with instructions on a new strategy I must implement in my classroom. Unlike the MI crew, I do not have a choice as to whether or not I choose to complete it.  Nor, does the message self-destruct because it shows up, again and again, every week, followed by my new mission of the week.

Not only do they show up repeatedly, but we receive emails with explicit directions. For example,  “I am looking for (the strategy of the week) when I come in your room.”  Or one minute, you’re helping a student at the computer, the other students are putting away the laptops to give to the teacher across the hall, others are lining  up to head to the computer lab,(somewhat chaotic), you look up, and the administrator and her coach are standing in your room.  She is scribbling ferociously on a pad, while her coach stands looking around, her nose scrunched as if she smells something bad.

Of course, at that moment, I am not using ANY of the suggested “mission”strategies, and I am sure that was  duly recorded.  Maybe I should have rung the chime.:), that would have earned a few strategy points.  I have never seen Tom Cruise treated this way, even when he bungles part of his mission.

So, what is this thing I have to do now? I really don’t know. All I know is that it is called a “Question Audit”.  Anyone know what a Question Audit is?   What purpose does it serve?   How will it help me become a better teacher?   Shouldn’t I know why I have to collect 5 questions?  These are just a couple of questions that I have about my latest “mission”. I guess I have to complete it, and then my questions will be answered.

Does School Audit = School Accountability? I Don’t Think So!

It began in September. We received news that our school was going to be audited.  They called it CSR, the Comprehensive Success Review. We were told it would be for our own good. A group of people from the state would come in, observe us for one day, and then offer their wisdom on how to make us better. (I found out later that this was originally done for “under improvement” schools, but the district thought it was so great, all schools in the district should benefit. Hmm..I wonder how much this cost?)

So, from September to November, everything we discussed was related to  CSR. Copies of our Mission statement were copied and pasted all around the school.  Teachers who were going to be interviewed were given copies of the questions.  Meetings were held to come up with the “right answers” for each question. Anything we talked about were followed by the words, “We have to be ready for the CSR.”  Every week something else was placed before us, something else we had to do to prepare for CSR. We had to prepare our students for the day, letting them know that total strangers would be walking in and out of our room, at will, all day long.  Talk about stress!

The day arrived, and we had total strangers/ District people walk in and out of our rooms. They would watch a lesson for about 5 minutes, take notes, and then leave.  Most of the people were from the District, 2 or 3 from the state.(?) I still don’t know. And as suddenly as it began, it was over.

They came back to meet with the principal, and then came back again to meet with the staff. As you probably guessed, they posted an over 100 page document on the Smartboard and proceeded to go through what they felt was the good, the bad, and the ugly.  I sat there, amazed at what they believed to be important to help us educate our children as opposed to what I know is important.

The funniest(and not ha ha funny), was when a former principal (hasn’t been in a classroom for years), proceeded to explain to us (many times)that:

1. The people who observed us, used to be educators and they are experts in their field. (When was the last time they were in a classroom?)

2. The one day they observed us actually counted as 3 days, because x number of people observed y number of teachers z number of minutes. (If you understand his logic,  please enlighten me.)

3.  The use of the word “rigor”, and how they did not see “rigor” in most of the classrooms. (I am all for raising the standards for our kids, however, I am against the use of  the “word of the month.”)

The torture finally ended and they left us. My principal kept us another 20 minutes to go over what he said, and ask us how we would implement these wonderful suggestions in our classroom.  Her coach assured us that she was there for us, and any research we needed done, she would be glad to help. Wow!

There was a bright spot. Three teachers were considered exemplary because, when they were observed, they were using Words Their Way (District mandated program)in an innovative way! Really? Not taking away from those teachers, but was that the only good educational practice they observed in one (ooops, I mean, three) days?

Anyway, it’s over. Well, except for the fact that the district will check to see how we have implemented the recommendations offered.  Aaaargh! I don’t mind constructive criticism, ideas , and strategies that will make us better educators, but is this really the way?  Is this really about teacher accountability or is this a way to validate what we are doing with RTT funds? Maybe I’m missing something, but there has to be a better way!

Tony Danza,Teacher! Puh-leeze!

Tony Danza Has a New Teaching Job, Cries 'a Lot' in Front of His StudentsIt’s a holiday weekend, and I have a little more time on my hands than usual.  I wanted to get away, but that didn’t quite work out. So, I decided to spend a little more time on the computer than I normally do, and I came across this article about Tony Danza, teacher. Now I use the word “teacher” lightly, very, very, lightly. This article was posted in September 2010,  but I think it’s relevant to what people think of teachers.

The network decided  to do a reality series called, “Teach”.  They think and they think, and someone says, “I know who we could get!?” “Tony Danza!”   Seriously?   Not one of the Teacher of the Year candidates?   They didn’t think of me?  Or any of the millions of hard-working, talented, teachers that work diligently every day of their lives?

 “Even though Tony describes teaching as his “dream job,” he only did it for the year that he was paid to be on A&E — which … well, you can draw your own conclusions here.” Hmmm… What conclusion can we draw? What a farce!  He “taught” so that he could get paid to be on television. Is this a person you would want teaching your kids for a year? What a waste of a school year! I would love to know how he was held accountable.

“Tony talks about not wanting to fail his students, which is often what made him want to tear up. “It just gets to you … You look over and see a kid bored, a kid with their head down, you go crazy, it breaks your heart. I cried a lot; they made me cry — because I loved them, I guess.” I want to throw up!  I’m crying now Tony, thinking about all those high school kids who probably dropped out because they had you as a “teacher” for a whole year.  If he was so heartbroken, why isn’t he still “teaching?”

“After originally being rejected by the New York school system, Danza eventually convinced the folks in Pennsylvania to let him teach. However, he never actually managed to get certified as a real teacher. So he had to have a second “co-teacher” in his classroom, who would observe and monitor him. In addition, because of his lack of certification, Tony only taught two classes a day. (Actual high school teachers have to teach between  four and seven classes a day.)” This sums it up. This is what people think of our profession, we are just warm bodies in the room. Why did I bother to go to school and get my BS and my MS? I should have become an actor, have someone offer me a reality show, and pretend to teach for a year. I wold have made enough money so that I could quit teaching and go back to my acting career.

Then I read  the comments.  They praised Tony for his committment to these students. Here’s an example of a comment from one of his fans.  “A teacher that really cares if his students learn. NOT his paycheck. NOT who is president. NOT his three months off. NOT “How soon is the next “teachers’ day?” NOT if he will get a raise, better medical benefits, longer paid vacation, more time off with more pay.”  I couldn’t have written a better definition of a good teacher myself. (Sarcasm intended)

“Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition” Jaques Barzun

Tony Danza Has a New Teaching Job (article)

“They Did Not Choose Their Parents”

These words were spoken at the 2011 PLC Summit I attended in Arizona last week.  “They didn’t choose their genetic pool”. “They couldn’t say I want two college-educated parents who love me, care for me, and make education my priority.”  

 I realized after hearing this statement,  that many times, I get frustrated with my students  about things over which they have no control.  When they come to school without school supplies,  their parent doesn’t sign a form,or  misses a scheduled appointment, or has made the child stay home to babysit, again.  These are things that the student can not control, but yet, year after year, my frustration is placed on a  child, who is probably just as frustrated as I am!  How many times has the child walked in the day after parent-teacher conferences, and I’ve said, “Your mother scheduled an appointment and didn’t come”  The child stands there wide-eyed, not knowing how to reply. Maybe they know why, maybe they don’t,but  that’s not the issue.

We need to work around the parents who are not supportive, the ones who just don’t have the time.  We need to tell our children, “You do you.”  “You do what you need to do to succeed.”  Let’s not hold them accountable for the mistakes, or neglect, of their parents and guardians.  Let’s not make them bear the weight of their parents’ transgressions.  Why say to a child who is late every day, “You’re late again.” Knowing  the only way the child can get to school is if their parent drives them.

So, I’m taking a new outlook, and it began yesterday.  I have a student who is out every Monday.   I would fuss at him every Tuesday about the work he had to make up or didn’t understand.

 “Well”, I would say sternly, you need to be here on Mondays.”

 He was in school yesterday and instead of a  “Glad you could make it”, I smiled and said, “I am so glad that you are able to be here today.”  A smile lit up his face and he said, sincerely, “So, am I.” The next time he’s out, I will work with him and help him catch up. Am I a” bad” teacher? I don’t think so, but I’m certainly not the best I can be. I’m learning though, and I’m willing to take a good, hard, look in the mirror, and correct my mistakes.

Productive Parent Teacher Conferences!

Parent Teacher conferences. Twice a year,(or more), we sit down with our students’ parents and relay the good or bad news about their child.  A parent teacher conference can go two ways, productive or non-productive. I recall  many conferences, and  many types of parents. The wonderful, supportive, parent, the hostile parent, the parent that won’t leave no matter how many times you stand up, the ones who just nod, the appreciative parents, the ones who share every aspect of their lives, while the letters,  “TMI” run through your brain,and my favorite, the  parents who share how much they and their child love you.

 Year after year, I have tried to find a way to make my conferences productive. I have  attempted to find a way to share information, no matter the parent type.  I have always felt frustration, when after a parent leaves, and I think, “Oh, I forgot to tell her/him….”  Last year, I created a form based on  some of the questions from a worksheet that my  Phi Delta Kappa soror shared with me. Parent teacher conference form revised  The  first question is ” What are your concerns or comments?” This allows my parents to feel, as they should,that I care about what they think.  As we complete the form, using the questions to guide the conference and open discussion between myself and the parent. I feel that the form  answers questions parents have, but  forget, or don’t ask. After the form is completed, the parent signs it, thereby giving me a document supporting that I have kept the parent informed. When I used the form,  the conference moved along smoothly.  I keep the original, and send a signed copy home to the parent the next day. I also send filled out forms home  to parents who don’t attend,and  have them sign it.   This marking period, I am going to review the first form with the parent, and see how it compares to the current marking period. As a parent, I know conferences aren’t always easy, especially if the child is not doing well. Hopefully, my form makes it easier to focus on  the purpose of the conference, bringing together the parent and the teacher in a productive atmosphere.


A bout twenty years ago, when I was teaching in New York,  I was observed by an “administrator.”  I had about 4 years of teaching under my belt. I was asked how I think I had done, and I replied, “I think it went well.”  He smirked,  “Well, you must think very highly of yourself.”  I won’t go into how I handled that situation, but no violence or profanity were involved. 🙂

Fast forward to 2011.  You would think that after 26 years of teaching, observations would be easy. But no, I still get butterflies in my stomach.  I still feel this need to “perform”. I still feel the need to warn my children to behave because “they” are being observed.(You know they know better) My observation went well, integrating technology wows them every time, but it still made me think.

How can someone possibly know what kind of teacher I am by observing me, once a year, for about an hour? Administrators have so much on their plate, it’s rare that  they enter your classroom, unless you have problems. Many decisions about a teacher are based on these observations, and even if it’s twice a year, it’s still harsh.  I realize that if a teacher is really horrible, there will be  other indicators.  On your observation day there are factors that affect your performance. You might  have a “bad” class, or that day Sammy decided he was going to fight Jason, or the kids just didn’t get it, no matter what you tried.  And we know, there are inept, incompetent, teachers who know how to put on the dog and pony show.  I’ve known teachers who sit at their desk, all day, every day, but the day of their observation, watch out! I have been fortunate to have administrators who use observations for what they are, observations, a chance for compliments and constructive criticism. Unfortunately, many teachers are not that lucky.   I’ve come a long way since that observation in New York, but I guess I still have a little of that young teacher who heard, “You must think very highly of yourself,” lurking inside.

Why Can’t Johnnie Read?

It’s scary out there! More and more, teachers are being held accountable for low test scores, low test scores from students who can’t read. Back in the 80’s, you had a small group of students in the “low” group, and the rest were average or excelled. Flash forward to 2010, and those “low” students are now the majority. Why can’t they read?!!! I have been struggling with this question for the past few years, it is so frustrating.  I have tried a multitude of  strategies, refusing to give up.  Is it the lack of books at home?  Is it just that they don’t care?  Is it the lack of conversation and the almost nonexistent vocabulary?   Is it …..?????  What do you do with students who, year after year, program after program, show no progress, literally, none! One parent asked to have her kid tested, she is frustrated as well because her daughter has been pulled out for reading groups for years. 

I volunteer to read to 3 and 4 year olds once a week.  Some of them are so enthusiastic and they can point out numbers, shapes, colors,etc…, they follow the plot of a story. While others, can’t form a single word. One of the parents came to pick up her son, and I overheard the teachers telling her he was using the word “f$#@”.  This same kid couldn’t form words and wouldn’t read with me the following week. Hmmmmm……… 

Today I had the kids that failed the reading test take it online, while I read the questions and choices aloud, they still chose the same wrong answers, while looking in the book for the answers! I tell students my  students every day, “There is no magic reading dust that I can sprinkle on you, the only way to become a better reader, is to read!” If only they would listen. Or better yet, maybe we can get Tony Danza to teach them! 🙂

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