Thursday, November 19, 2009

Does my insurance cover insanity?

Yesterday we had our monthly staff meeting after school. Interestingly enough, the first thirty minutes of this mandatory whole-school meeting were dedicated not to raising test scores, preparing for IMPACT observations, or discussing important events coming up at our school. Rather, we spent time talking about all of the exciting ways Aflac insurance can work for us! Seriously?! I don't need to come to work to hear a commercial. This staff meeting is required - not some optional sales pitch - and the Aflac presentation went long, so we had even less time for the rest of the agenda (which consisted of such clearly unimportant topics as "How and when to report child abuse" and discussing our "school safety plan").

I don't know that I've ever seen a group of teachers more irate. Instead of lesson planning, collaborating, grading, or doing ANYTHING useful, they tried to sell us insurance. I was sitting next to one colleague who just kept saying, "I'm losing it. I'm just losing it." Personally, I used the time to write and solve my own polynomial long division problems. I felt this was more important that learning how much Aflac would pay me if I got cancer.

($5000, by the way.)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Harry Potter and the Totally Arbitrary Evaluation

Last week I was observed by my principal and a master educator. I haven't had my meeting with the master educator yet to discuss my evaluation (sorry -- no juicy numerical details), but I did meet with my principal to discuss my scores and I left that meeting even more convinced that some administrators in this school system just don't have what it takes.

The lesson I got observed on went OK, but not great. I had split the class up into two groups based on their performance on a mini-assessment, and was doing differentiated lessons based on those groupings. While there were no major problems, the class wasn't terribly well organized. Essentially, whenever I left one group to work with the other, the first group didn't really accomplish much. Nothing terrible happened, but I hadn't set up structures to ensure that the groups continued working even when I walked away. All this to say that I expected my evaluation to be OK, but not stellar.

Wrong. I received a score of 3.8 (out of a perfect 4), which puts me in the "highly effective" category. Now, if I'd actually earned that score, I'd be pleased. But I didn't. My lesson showed me to be effective, but not outstanding. So why did I get the score I got? Because my principal has decided that she likes me. Of course, this isn't really a problem for me (except that I'm not really getting any feedback for improvement, I suppose). But it is a problem for the people she's decided she doesn't like. Some teachers at my school are unhappy with their scores, and for some I don't really doubt that it's because they're not based in reality.

I firmly believe in accountability for teachers. Teachers should be held to high standards of excellence. Someone should be able to walk into your classroom at any time and see what you're doing, and you should be doing your job reasonably well. I firmly believe that teachers who aren't meeting an acceptable level of performance should be put on an improvement plan and, if that doesn't work, transitioned out of the classroom (read: fired). Kids deserve that much. But I'm also coming to realize that such a practice won't ever happen fairly until we have administrators who are willing and able to do that job. If teachers are the single biggest factor in improving student achievement (as I -- and Michelle Rhee -- think they are), then aren't administrators the single biggest factor in improving teacher effectiveness?

(P.S. I think some will read this post and say, "That's just what we've been saying forever! Rhee is terrible! That's why the union protects us from arbitrary firings!" Well, I still disagree with those statements. There are way too many teachers in this system who are grossly incompetent, and I applaud Michelle Rhee's fervent attempts to rid our system of them. I'm just saying we won't be able to do that until administrators are on board with doing their jobs well. That is all.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Harry Potter and General Malaise

Frequent readers have probably noticed that I haven't been posting much recently. While I'd like to provide some ridiculous story about why I haven't been posting -- that I was threatened or told to be quiet or terminated or attacked by a pack of bees -- I cannot tell a lie.

I'm just frustrated. And burned out. And tired. I don't know if it's because of Impact (don't think so) or the forever stalled contract negotiations (maybe) or my administration (YES!!!), but I just feel really de-motivated. One thing I can say is that it's definitely not the kids. My kids this year are doing really well, and I've somehow managed to build a really positive culture in my classes. They try hard, and for the most part they're learning a lot. But damn if I'm just not satisfied.

It's getting to the point where I'm thinking about what else I could be doing, and trying to figure out if I want to stay teaching (or at least teaching at my school) next year. On the one hand, I don't like falling into the stereotype of Teach for America teachers who sweep in on a wave of idealism and then leave after we've worked that glassy-eyed naivete out of our system. But on the other hand, do I really want to continue working in a place where I feel unvalued, unengaged, and unhappy?

So anyway, I haven't been posting recently. However, in this week alone I'm being observed by my principal and a DCPS master educator. So chances are at least one person is going to say or do something bizarre enough to get a blog post. Stay tuned for that!