Saturday, April 1, 2017

why I'll never be a "distinguished" teacher

Arkansas right now is judging evaluating teachers through a system called "TESS." They say it stands for "Teacher Excellence and Support System," but I'm not so sure I believe them. This system (that's supposed to be there to support teachers) is split into 4 domains:
  • Planning & Preparation
  • Classroom Environment
  • Instruction
  • Professional Responsibilities
D1 & D4 then are split into 6 subcategories, and D2 & D3 each have 5. On each little subcategory, teachers are rated as Unsatisfactory, Basic, Proficient, or Distinguished. So to recap: 22 things to be rated on, with scores from 1-4.

I perused the Arkansas Department of Education website for a few minutes to get some data for this and found a slew of powerpoint presentations. 22 of them, actually, with an average of 30 slides per topic.

All designed to explain to me exactly how to be seen as a "Distinguished" teacher.

All those categories are really good goals. Of course I want to know my content inside & out. I want my classroom to be a safe, comfortable place for my kids. I want to find ways to get math across to every single kid in my room so they all come out of my class with a solid foundation so they can face the problems this world throws at them.

In fact, here are some of my goals as a teacher:
  • Make my kids see that math isn't always terrible.
  • Show them that someone cares.
  • Teach them to stick to it and keep working when problems in life get hard instead of just coming up with excuses to quit.
In TESS, though, here's what I'm judged on: I submit a lesson plan along with answers to about a dozen questions. Then, one person comes into my room for one 45-minute class period. At the end, I answer some more questions about how I think the class went.

I'm with each class of kids for 45-minutes a day, 5 days a week, for 36 weeks. That amounts to 8,100 minutes each school year of time scheduled for each class. 135 hours. So somebody watches me for 45/8100--> 0.6% of the time I have scheduled with my kids. So basically, half a percent of the time I spend with my kids.

Nevertheless, this 45 minutes is used to judge my teaching...and planning...and relationship with my kids...and knowledge of my subject...and my professionalism.

So I've come to a conclusion: I'm never going to be rated as "Distinguished." So here's a list of some of the possible reasons why not.
  1. I have expectations for my kids, and they include way more than scoring proficient on a test.
  2. I don't think you have to be able to use big words to prove that you understand something. In fact, I think the quote attributed to Einstein is fitting: "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."
  3. Sometimes in class, we talk about things that have nothing to do with math.
  4. I don't feel like I have to write papers about teaching, give lectures about teaching, or write page upon page of lesson plans to prove that I'm a teacher.
  5. I will never be able to get 100% of my kids involved and interested in math 100% of the time. It just won't happen.
  6. Gimmicks just aren't my style. I'm not going to put on a show every day.
  7. Sometimes, I lecture. Once a week at least in each class, actually. It's always going to happen.
  8. My classroom isn't pretty. It has tables, chairs, and a whiteboard. I don't spend time and energy on decorations.
  9. I talk to my kids, but I don't know every detail of their lives.
  10. I quite simply don't have the time. I teach 7 different class periods to kids, I'm a cheer coach, and I'm a wife and mom. There aren't enough hours in the day to do everything that has to be done, let alone all the extra stuff.
  11. I don't think every kid has the ability to "master" every concept from Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II.
  12. Building on the last point, I don't think every kid needs to learn every concept from those courses.
  13. I think that sometimes, failing is the best thing that can happen to a kid. Like Wat Disney said, "Sometimes a kick in the teeth is the best thing for you."
So, I probably won't ever be distinguished. But you know what? That's okay. I can't ever be everything to everyone. So instead, I'll focus on my kids instead of on test scores and ratings. And I think that will work out just fine.

Parents, step up

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