Friday, April 10, 2009

A Quick Post

I'm leaving to go back home for Easter at like negative 4 o'clock tomorrow, so I have to post quickly. However, I defo have something to post.

Today one of my AP Statistics students had the following question:

"Why are we working so hard to prepare for this AP test? I don't even care about this test, I just want to learn."

Breaks my heart. Obviously, the AP test is a very important test, in that it determines whether or not the kids get college credit for the class. The worst part is that I spend the rest of my day working with 10th graders trying to get them to be functional enough to pass the DC-CAS. And those kids don't even realize that they're being denied real education in an effort to raise their "test scores." As an apologist for standardized tests, I have to say: this is not what testing was supposed to be about. Yech.


Anonymous said...

Harry – If I understood you correctly from a previous post, no one in your school has ever passed an AP exam, thus meaning that none of your AP statistics students have passed either.

If that’s the case, are you prepared to step aside to make room for another teacher who thinks he/she can teach more effectively than you? Or are you going to make excuses? Those were the two choices you mentioned.

Mr. Potter said...

Hi Anon-

This is the first time I've taught AP Statistics, so none of my students has been tested yet. I have high hopes for my students that they will break the tradition. However, if they don't, I will certainly not say, 'Oh well.' If my students don't succeed, I will work to revamp the way I teach.

I don't think the two options are succeed or quit. But if you're not being successful, I think it is the teacher's job to investigate his or her own practices and see where things can be improved. No teacher is perfect.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Harry - you say, “I don't think the two options are succeed or quit,” but in the current system, teachers get no second chances. If deemed unsuccessful by a principal review, they have 90 days to show improvement, or they’re out.

Why would it be any different with AP teachers, who have good students already and who have a standardized test that provide data-driven results? It seems to me that if you take full responsibility for your students learning, then one year is enough to prove your worthiness.

I bet there are first year AP teachers in the suburbs who get kids to pass the test. If so, they are better teachers than you, according to the reasoning that all it takes for student improvement is a great teacher who believes in their students and all others should step aside.

Mr. Potter said...


This is what I wrote on the post that has apparently bothered you so much:

"Here's what I say: suck it up. Is teaching in DC difficult? Yeah, definitely. But if you can't hack it then go work somewhere else. If teachers make excuses for why we're not succeeding with our students, then they shouldn't be teachers. Now, I don't think that teachers who don't raise test scores should be fired, and I don't think that all teachers should be expected to be martyrs. I personally am not confident that I could get the most difficult 10th graders at my school to pass the DC-CAS, even if I had two years with them. But I do think it's possible, and I intend to continue to seek out resources, development, and constructive criticism so that I one day will be the type of teacher who can make those gains."

How you jumped from that to what you've twisted my words to mean is beyond me.

My argument is and always has been that it is possible for teachers to close the achievement gap through hard work, collaboration, and creativity. And any teacher who thinks that the problem cannot be solved should find another profession.

Mr. Potter said...

Also, you wrote: "in the current system, teachers get no second chances. If deemed unsuccessful by a principal review, they have 90 days to show improvement, or they’re out."

The 90 days to improve is a second chance, right?

Toby said...

Teachers in my school who were put on the 90 day plan were observed multiple times by the principal, starting in the first week of school, before they were put on it. She made announced unstructured observations, for which she warned us in advance and gave a checklist of the things she was looking for. She came to my classroom once, was satisfied that I have a standards-based classroom and am teaching with effective classroom control. She moved on to other teachers. Some teachers were observed several times and not put on the plan, but given feedback and support, as the principal felt they needed. No one in my school was capriciously or hastily put on 90 days. It was done after several classroom visits and meetings with those teachers. She told people what she wanted to see. Some people made the corrections and others I guess didn't.

Anonymous said...

Toby - glad to hear that your principal is handling it that way. Chancellor Rhee made it pretty clear that she'd be using "Plan B", i.e., the 90 day plan, to get rid of teachers (since she couldn't get the red/green tier through).

Harry, you said "If teachers make excuses for why we're not succeeding with our students, then they shouldn't be teachers."

Now it seems to me you are backing off what "making excuses" means when it could be applied to you - if in fact none of your kids pass the AP statistics test.

I think you don't think of yourself as one of "those" teachers, so whatever failures you have (like a zero AP pass rate) could not possibly be your fault, because you're a good teacher who's trying. I don't particularly disagree, but I don't like the idea of putting different standards on different teachers. It smacks of stereotyping, which of course, is a major feature of racism.

Aren't you already collaborating, working hard and being creative? What will be your reasons if you don't get any passes, but a teacher at another school gets a bunch? What could it be other than that teacher put forth a much better effort than you?

Progressive Educator said...

Last week I tried to teach students how to write a summary. Most of them didn't seem to get it. I researched on the Internet and found a different, simpler way. I began trying it today.

Last week, I failed, but I didn't stop there.

I hear Mr. Potter saying that he is willing to do all of the research, retraining, revamping needed to improve his teaching skills if his students are not succeeding. Some teachers do throw in the towel after one attempt and say, "I taught it, but they didn't learn it. I did my part." We have some awesome teachers in DCPS, but believe it or not, not all teachers in DCPS are willing to research and improve as necessary.

Anonymous said...

Progressive Educator - what if most or all of your kids never really get very good at writing summaries, no matter how creative you are? Is it your fault? Do you quit teaching? Do you assume that teachers who are successful where you have failed (even though they use the same methods) are superior teachers? do you step aside?

Also, I'd be interested in hearing your response to my response to the series of questions you posed in the last post.

Anonymous said...

Progressive educator -- Let’s say for the sake of argument, that there are two types of teachers in DC: Type 1 who “throws in the towel” (according to your assessment) and type 2 who keeps trying new methods.

In both cases, the teachers enjoy their jobs and have good relationships with their students. They’re dependable, responsible employees and they are engaged in the school community, attending kids’ extracurricular events and putting in extra time with kids who want and need it. Ultimately their students perform in a similar manner – most of them don’t do very well. They’re good kids, most of them, but still, they don’t perform at the level the teachers hope for and the chancellor demands.

Do you think this scenario is possible? That two teachers could have such different mindsets and still have similar outcomes? How do you know that mindset makes a difference in students’ performance? said...

Look, Anon, I can appreciate the kind of teacher you describe. You actually did not describe two different mindsets. You described the mindset of a teacher who is "engaged" and "putting in extra time" - not a teacher who has thrown in in the towel.

I focus my comments on teachers who, plain and simple, just don't care anymore or are unable to improve - have thrown in the towel.

A teacher like you described probably doesn't scream at children a lot or call them derogatory names, give them worksheets and make every Friday a PG-13 movie day, or regularly answer personal phone calls on a cell phone during class. I could go on.

The teacher that you described, as perfect as she sounds, would for the rest of her teaching career look for better methods and try to stay abreast of what research says. We expect the same of other professionals. My accountant is aware of last year's changes in tax law. My dentist has the most high tech equipment. Parents should expect me as a teacher, to be familiar with best practices and up to date on research. That's what I mean by being willing to revamp and retrain and relearn as necessary.

You probably agree that ineffective teachers, after given a chance, should not still be teaching. The points I think we disagree on are "how big of a problem is ineffective teaching in DCPS?" and what is "being given a chance?"

I tend to think it's a big problem and should be high on Rhee's list and the Union's list of problems to tackle. Others seem to think it should be number 5 or 6 or lower on the list.

Another thing I don't do is compare our inner city children to children in the 'burbs. I don't see the point. Apples and oranges.

Suburban schools often have better behavior, more resources, and parents who can afford afterschool tutoring. They also have poor teachers in those schools, too, but they are better hidden because their students do well DESPITE the teacher!

I'm more focused on seeing improvement and growth in learning. I want to know that our children know more this year than they did last year and that every year they are improving.

I believe we could see more improvement in classrooms where teachers don't stop teaching at 2:00 each day, or where teachers actually do plan their lessons before they stand up and try to teach them.

Anonymous said...

No really, Jmannii – I was describing teachers with different mindsets:

Mindset1 - a dedicated, hardworking, creative teacher who thinks teachers should step aside if they can’t raise scores
Mindset2, who are as dedicated, etc. as #1 and as much as they would kids’ achievement to rise, they don’t believe teachers can take complete responsibility for it and don’t think they should step aside and find another line of work if their kids don’t achieve at the “highest levels” that the Chancellor says all kids can achieve at.

Then there’s the third type of teacher who just does worksheets, talks on her cell phone, etc. Obviously that teacher is ineffective and change her ways or go. But Rhee also attaches the term “ineffective” to teachers who don’t get scores up. That’s the measure she uses – studnt achievement.

That’s why I badger Harry Potter to think of himself in that light – not like the worksheet/cellphone teacher, but like the good teacher who simply doesn’t share his mindset.

I suspect Harry and perhaps you, can’t imagine a good teacher who doesn’t have that mindset. But I’d like to you consider that it’s possible and even likely. It needn’t mean you’ve given up; it could mean you’re being realistic. Many, many people, including the President think poverty and parental involvement have a great influence on student ability and motivation.

I also suspect Harry has a different standard for himself and can’t imagine the justice of getting canned if his AP kids flame out, even though it would fit perfectly with the Chancellor’s philosophy – which puts the entire responsibility for student achievement on the teacher – no excuses. I bet Harry thinks that as long as he’s giving it his all, has the proper mindset and is looking for new ways to motivate the kids, he should be able to keep his job – and his AP class.

That doesn’t make sense – unless mindset is the only thing that’s important – that it doesn't matter if you actually get those scores up, as long as you continue to think you can.

What good is a bunch of energetic, positive-thinking teachers without results?

Anonymous said...

Ohmigosh, I use worksheets. Not all the time, every day. But I think the "teaching" or actually non-teaching technique with teachers just passing the time and worksheets is something I've witnessed. It's the assigning worksheets, not going over them, just using them as a way to fill up the period rather than interact with the students and instruct. A variation on the theme is the assign workbook pages to complete. Or the copy words out of a dictionary, even for first graders. Or having constant group discussions about anything. All these timewasting activities are not teaching but go on daily in many classrooms throughout the city.

Glenn Watson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Glenn Watson said...

“You probably agree that ineffective teachers, after given a chance, should not still be teaching. The points I think we disagree on are "how big of a problem is ineffective teaching in DCPS?" and what is "being given a chance?”>>>>

I think the real question is, what is the definition of “ineffective?” Is a teacher ineffective if he uses too many worksheets? Is he ineffective if too many of his students fail his class or fail a standardized test?

The poster is right that Potter is being bit dodgy when is says other teachers who don’t perform well should quit but won’t himself quit if his students fail to do well on the AP exam.

I predict his kids will do poorly, not becaeu he si a bad teacher but because he is a first year AP teacher in a poorly performing school. But I don’t think he should quit.

Still, he can’t have it both ways. Either we are all judged on the performance of our kids or we are not.

If Mister Pottet wants to be judged on his "can do attitude and willingness to try new things" then I guess he has virtual tenure for life but is that really the way to go?

I think the focus should shift away from the teachers and onto the kids. Let’s put more pressure on them to succeed and more consequences for failure in the school. Because in the real world there will be consequences for failure and the students won't be able to blame their teacher then. Let me take that back. They can blame teachers all they want but no one will listen.

“Another thing I don't do is compare our inner city children to children in the 'burbs. I don't see the point. Apples and oranges.”>>>>

Maybe you don’t but Rhee does. She wants DC to be the best system in the country and that means she has to beat the burbs.

Anonymous said...

maybe it's just me, but some of you teaching AP classes need to clarify this for me. Why are there even AP classes in DCPS high schools where only 30% or so of the students are proficient on grade level reading and math, let alone advanced, which is the level for AP?

Mr. Potter said...

Let me clarify what I meant when I said some teachers should step aside.

I think that if a teacher truly believes that the achievement gap cannot be closed, regardless of how good the teacher corps is, then that person should go somewhere else.

I know (because I teach in DCPS too) that we have kids who come to us WAY behind. My AP kids, for example, have a lot more learning to do than kids in the suburbs if they want to pass the AP test. So if my kids don't pass, I'm not going to hold myself personally responsible and quit -- and I don't think anyone else should.

But, I think that if students have excellent teachers every year in every class, we can close the achievement gap. I think it's possible, and research backs me up on that.

So what I'm saying is that if a teacher in DCPS is satisfied with the quality of education that a student in DCPS receives, that teacher should find somewhere else to work. If a teacher, at the end of the year, as a lot of students fail, and does not think critically about ways that teacher could improve, then the teacher should leave.

Does that mean every teacher who doesn't have all of his/her students meet AYP goals should leave? Of course not. But if a teacher sees low student achievement and refuses to analyze his/her shortcomings as a teacher (which we all have), then maybe that teacher has given up.

If you do the same things you've always done, you're going to get the same things you always got.

Glenn Watson said...

I think that if a teacher truly believes that the achievement gap cannot be closed, regardless of how good the teacher corps is, then that person should go somewhere else.>>>

I don't believe the achievement gap between DC school and suburban school will every change until the demographics of DC changes in relation to the suburbs. I think this because even if the DC school were to improve the suburbs would too. I do think inner city school can get better and teachers play a role but the suburban teacher are not just sitting around eating bon bons. They are working just as hard as you and they have better students.

Why is this so hard to understand?

Anonymous said...

OK, so you DO believe that a teacher should step aside, based completely on mindset, without regard for their academic success with their students or their creativity, desire to keep teaching, etc. [For clarity – the wrong mindset is the belief that it takes more than teacher effort to close the achievement gap.] And it seems to follow then that a teacher who does have the correct mindset should be allowed to stay, even if their kids do poorly year after year no matter what creative techniques the teacher uses. If so, where does student achievement come in? What about Rhee’s belief that all children can achieve at high levels if only they have great teachers? Where does she say trying and having the right mindset are enough?

Of course it’s unlikely that a teacher with the unacceptable mindset you describe would talk about it openly (just as atheist teachers might not mention their lack of belief because their colleagues might think that a teacher who doesn’t believe in God is immoral and shouldn’t be around children - the way people used to think about homosexual teachers).

I think it’s just as unlikely that in a public school system that employees would be required to openly subscribe to a belief in order to keep their jobs, or in order to avoid being shunned by their colleagues, but in a way, this seems to be what you expect. People should state their unacceptable (to you) belief, then leave. People with the acceptable belief can stay as long as they continue to hold the belief, irrespective of their results.

Do I have it right now?

If so, what about the other AP teachers in your school who have been teaching several years now with no passing students.

Let’s say a teacher with the right mindset and a history of a high AP pass rates comes in from another district. Seems to me, we owe it to the students to have the current teacher (regardless of mindset) step aside and let the superior teacher do the job. You don’t fire the continuously failing teacher, necessarily, but give them a lower level class to see if they can handle that any better. What are your thoughts on that?

Mr. Potter said...

I do think inner city school can get better and teachers play a role but the suburban teacher are not just sitting around eating bon bons. They are working just as hard as you and they have better students.>>>

Glen, I totally agree with you. Teaching in the suburbs is a difficult and thankless job. My point is that teaching in DCPS is more difficult because our students have greater challenges. It requires more work to get our students to the same place. And I think that teachers in DCPS should embrace the fact that it is more difficult. We need to do more than teachers in functional schools -- who are already doing a lot -- to help our kids close the gap. And when I say "we", I don't just mean teachers as individuals. I mean everyone involved in the education of the child. As a system, we need to understand that the kids in DCPS require more, and if we're not willing to accept that, then perhaps we should move to another school system.

People should state their unacceptable (to you) belief, then leave. People with the acceptable belief can stay as long as they continue to hold the belief, irrespective of their results.

Do I have it right now?>>>

No, you don't. And you know you don't. We can agree to disagree, but it's a bit silly to continue to twist my words into bizarre bastardizations that you know I meant. This isn't a witch hunt for teachers with the wrong mindset. This is about kids and what works with them. Research shows that kids with excellent teachers are more likely to succeed and go to college, and that children with bad teachers for several years in a row never recover.

So here's a hypothetical for you: Let's say we took an average class of kindergartners from SE and made sure that they had excellent teachers every single year, K - 12. Do you believe that those children will fare better than kids who just had the regular crop of DCPS teachers? If so, how much better? If not, then why not?

Anonymous said...

No, Harry, I really don’t know that I don’t have you right, and I’m not twisting your words, which you would see if you read over them. I’m tring to get you to live up to them or let them go. I think you don’t like what I’m saying so you dismiss it as “bizarre bastardizations.” Being completely ingenuous, I think you don’t really know what you mean. I think you spout dogma (e.g. “those teachers should step aside!”) without realizing what you’re saying and then lash out when you’re feeling backed into a corner. I think you’re brainwashed (when it comes to effective teaching), which can happen to the smartest people.

Please provide the link about the research you cite. I don’t doubt for a minute that a series of good teachers positively affect kids. This is common sense. But I do strongly suspect that this is a trumped up mantra to make idealistic young teachers think that they can overcome the effects of not only their students’ complex and difficult lives but also of all those “bad” teachers the poor kids had before people like you came along.

Regarding your hypothetical – of course I think good teachers K-12 would make a difference (just as 13 years of nutritious meals would make a difference), but I hesitate to compare those good teachers to your “usual crop of DC teachers.” That sounds like a slam – that it’s usual for DC teachers to be deficient (the type you think should step aside). You’re dissing teachers, while hanging on to your own superiority, though it’s likely none of your AP kids will pass the exam. You’re different – the cream of the crop – so when your kids fail, it’s for a different reason.

So we’re back to mindsets -- is it because that “usual crop” has the wrong mindset that they fail? And still you fail with your AP kids, even though you have the right mindset.

Mr. Potter said...

And you're hanging on to the mindset that the failures can't and shouldn't be your problem. You're telling me that my AP kids will fail (thanks, by the way), not that they might. According to you, fixing urban schools can't be done. Well, if it can't be done, then why try?

Mindset isn't just in your brain, it's also in your actions. There are TONS of teachers in my school who routinely kick kids out of class because they "don't want to learn." Those kids, incidently, do well in classes where teachers support them. But those teachers decided that some kids just can't do it, so they don't waste their time.

And my point all along has been that if you don't think it can be done, you probably should leave and go somewhere else. Because what you think matters to what you do. You can't possibly try your hardest when you have accepted failure from the beginning.

I have faith that my AP kids can pass. Is it possible that they won't? Yes. But if they don't, I will revise what I've done as a teacher to try to invest my next crop of students more, to teach them better, and to help them achieve. I will view it as my problem, and work hard to solve it. (Notice that "my problem" doesn't necessarily mean "my fault.") I can accept that my kids are way behind, but still think it's possible for them to succeed.

And isn't that better than a teachers who accepts their failure? One who just says, "OK, I did what I was supposed to, and they didn't pass because they just weren't good enough."

Here's the link to the research, which states that "the academic achievement gap ... could be entirely eliminated if [low-income] students were systematically assigned the most highly qualified teachers"

Finally, I work in DCPS with the "regular crop of DC teachers." Many of them aren't good enough. There are teachers in my building who fall asleep during class, who answer personal cell phone calls while teaching, who use racial slurs against students, who simply hand out worksheets and then sit down and read the paper -- each of these incidents represents a different teacher, and each I've observed with my own eyes. These people get paid more than I do, and do significantly less. So, yes, I do feel superior. Because I am. Now, there are also A LOT of great teachers at my school -- teachers have been doing this far longer and who are far better than I am. But the average is being brought down by a group that is extremely deficient. And all of these teachers justify their actions by thinking "these kids can't learn -- so what's the point."

Glenn Watson said...

My point is that teaching in DCPS is more difficult because our students have greater challenges.>>>

That is like saying it is more difficult to teach at the local community college than at Harvard.

Believe me working in a middle class or rich school is just as hard as working in an inner city school. The difficulties come in different forms and the pressures are different. I have been in both. My point is that teachers in both systems are working just as hard. But students in one system are not. You can detail the reasons why inner city kids do poorly and that will not change the fact that they do poorly. You can research and dream and cry, wail and sing “We are the World” with Oprah and unless the kids crack a book it won’t mean a darn thing.

And even if you found some magic formula for making inner city students 10% better unless you kept this formula out of the hands so the suburban kinds they would take it to and you would be back in the same boat.

Glenn Watson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Glenn Watson said...

I have faith that my AP kids can pass. >>>

Upon what empirical evidence do you base this faith? This is not one of those movies about the magic teacher who overcomes all odds and send their kids to Harvard, this is real life.

I will view it as my problem, >>>

And I predict that like DC Chic you will burn out in a few years.

Anonymous said...

“And you're hanging on to the mindset that the failures can't and shouldn't be your problem.” Really? Please consider that you think in absolutes, e.g., (paraphrasing)

– Kid’s achievement is the result of good teachers or bad teachers.
- Kid’s failure is either all their problem (as you attribute to me) or all the teachers’ problem (as you say).
- Teachers without the proper mindset, as you define it, should step aside, regardless of their students’ achievement.
- Teachers with the proper mindset should be able to keep their jobs, regardless of their students’ achievement.

If I got this wrong, please tell me how, based on what you’ve said so far.

I do appreciate your willingness to engage with me on this, which suggests some openness -- or perhaps determination to prove your point. I like to think that if my challenges to your thinking don’t sink in now, they will later. I wish you all the best with your AP students, but I fear both they and you are pawns of a broken system.

I notice you don’t address my question of if you will cede your AP classes to a more able teacher, as shown by their superior AP scores. This suggests that you think the right attitude supersedes improved student achievement. Is that so? What argument could you make for keeping your job if you can’t get the students to improve? If you don’t think you should be fired, why not? How can kids ever learn if teachers just think having the right attitude is enough, while the achievement gap stays the same.

Progressive Educator said...

More information about teacher quality and its effects on student achievement...We make a huge difference, you guys! - even with kids in poverty! We can't solve all their problems, but by ensuring that the teachers in DC are the strongest teachers around, we can definitely help them learn.

Scientifically-based Research on Teacher Quality"

"As teacher effectiveness increases, lower achieving students are the first to benefit."

"Effects of Teachers on Student Achievement"

Anonymous said...

Progressive Educator - you haven't gotten back to me about my answers to your questions about how a teacher who doesn't share your mindset would possibly justify staying in the field. You said you really wanted a response and I spent a lot of time giving one – two, in fact. I would appreciate a response back from you.

Progressive Educator said...


You asked, "What if most or all of your kids never really get very good at writing summaries, no matter how creative you are? Is it your fault? Do you quit teaching?"

This is a bold statement I am going to make, but it comes from my heart.

If I consistently teach kids year after year, and they make no sufficient measurable progress, I will step out of the way and let someone else come in and teach them.

I invite you to hold me to that statement, Anon.

To me, staying put would feel like a hamster running in a wheel - a bunch of work but getting nowhere.

While I am gone from the teaching profession, I would retrain or go back to school, then come back and try it again.

To be honest, I would probably start taking classes again, or at least attending seminars and trainings, before I went "year after year" and became a really bad teacher.

My students don't have to be proficient, or be the best students around, or "write REALLY GOOD summaries" - they just need to be basic. That is my aim, especially in a school where less than 50% of students score basic.

I would like to meet a teacher who believes he/she is a decent teacher and has exhausted ALL AVAILABLE STRATEGIES THAT EXIST to teach their students, but their students AS A WHOLE are still failing miserably.

That's the kind of teacher I believe gives up on trying because, "well, what else is there to try?" Then we focus on the children's poverty while forgetting that research shows teachers make a large difference, even for chilren in poverty.

I think I answered all of your questions, but I'll go back and read your post again.

Progressive Educator said...

"It needn’t mean you’ve given up; it could mean you're realistic."

I don't think all teachers with that mindset are giving up. Some have, but I think others are probably hanging in there while waiting for change to come. Yet, while they wait, I think they (and myself included) should be doing some serious professional reflection to find out what more we can do FROM OUR END and what can we stop doing that's obviously not working.

When I say what more we can do "FROM OUR END" I don't necessarily mean pedagogically, either. A teacher may realize that he or she should spend a little more time using their TENURE PROTECTIONS to ADVOCATE for adequate student supplies in his or her own classroom, and that can ultimately produce better student achievement.

"What good is a bunch of energetic, positive-thinking teachers without results?"

I agree. Those kind of teachers are like parents who think all they need to raise a child is "love" - forgetting that it takes time, money, and sometimes tears, too.

Anonymous said...

Progressive educator - you sound like a very sincere, perhaps overly idealistic, but still a good, dedicated teacher. It would be a shame to lose you because you felt you didn't measure up to what I perceive to be an unrealistic standard. The system should nurture people like you, not beat them into the ground.