Monday, June 22, 2009

Lazy days of summer

I've been out of school a week. As usual being relieved of the daily pressure to meaningfully fill three ninety-minute classes with engaging activities, read and respond to student work, contact parents, sit in on meetings, yadda-yadda-yadda has resulted in a burst of energy to get my own agenda out of the way.
What agenda is that? Read ahead for the two new courses I have to teach in the fall for one. (Already read or re-read and done my own assignments on Seamus Heany's Beowulf, Waiting for Godot, The Elephant Man and part of Robin Hood) started The Book Thief for fun, piled up three or four professional books I want to get through, read through 350 AP listserve emails and gleaned three new techniques (gonna try Interrupted Reading in the poetry unit - always looking for a way to get kids to think their own thoughts), wrote the outline of the syllabi for AP Lit, cleaned and repainted my office, tossed out papers, sorted piles and piles of books.....and mentally began designing a student newspaper and functioning student team...whew.
That's week #1 and just a partial list.
Summer is the time when many teachers reconnect with their personal lives too. I always count on the summer to get myself back into good health and make exercise a priority - visit with family, take a trip to somewhere I've never been (that starts tomorrow).
Then there's the push to get ready for the Writing Project summer institute. That will mean loading a truck and physically moving into a space we'll occupy for five weeks - then moving out again. Teachers are professional schleppers.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Lake Woebegone

So everybody's up in arms about teacher evaluations - all above average it seems. Jonathan Alter says "we already knows what works" but he doesn't say much about how to get'r done (which I think is to spot fund the programs George Miller is championing - hard to tell from this editorial more bent on pointing fingers than solving problems) The New York Times says its time to Tell the Truth.
Now that we (The BAD Teachers of America) have your attention for the nano-second that counts for media coverage these days, LISTEN for a minute.
There are some programs that actually identify and support effective teachers. All of those programs have the same hallmarks: they put teachers at the center of the work of evaluating each other and their own practice - where the evaluations occur in a collegial climate that develops sustained growth based on reflection, continued study, and goal setting.
The gold standard of teacher evaluation is the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Its rigorous, reflective, and peer evaluated. Even veteran teachers quake at the idea of putting their practice on the line for review.  But it proves that teachers CAN and SHOULD be the ones in charge of evaluations. 
Ask any NBCT.  Its tough and it changes teachers in the process.
What happens in most districts?
An already overburdened administrator jumps into a teacher's classroom for a few moments, fills out a check sheet, may - or may not - meet with the teacher later and moves on to put out other fires. 
Administrators are the least effective evaluators for a variety of reasons. Chief among them is their own personal survival. Can't go around firing all your teachers, can't take any more time to 'teach' the teachers, can't sit down to revamp an entire school all while parents, school board members, testing schedules are pounding at the door. Administrators may be passing on teacher effectiveness because holding on to a teacher serves some other interest
So why aren't the teachers in charge?
This kind of work takes time out of the day.  (The time that no one is afforded - see administrator work load above - because time is money.)
But, though initial start up would seem costly, investing in teacher evaluation would pay dividends in the long run.  Professionals in charge of their own work tend to a) work harder and b) find more satisfaction in their work and stay for an entire career.  (Another great peer-to-peer program, the National Writing Project, has proven this in their legacy study.)
The other dirty little secret neither Alter nor the Times mention in their effort to tidy up the edges of the big education pie is that teachers are leaving in droves every year before they even begin to understand the scope of the job.  And proven, effective teachers are retiring just as fast. Evaluations won't matter at all when teaching is a revolving door profession.  (Could you even call it a profession at that point?)  
New teachers will only have to know how to get kids to turn on the computer, fill in the forms, and then lock up for the day.  
And evaluating those employees will be easy enough.  
Just check to see if they have good attendance.

Monday, June 8, 2009

"If I had a million dollars...."

Even though nobody's asked, I have a opinion on how to spend the stimulus dollars some of us may never see... Here's my proposal.