In his op-ed, Johnson writes about the challenges of larger class sizes, fewer support staff and more students with severe disabilities.
On top of all that, I’m a bad teacher. That’s not my opinion; it’s how I’m labeled by the city’s Education Department. Last June, my principal at the time rated my teaching “unsatisfactory,” checking off a few boxes on an evaluation sheet that placed my career in limbo. That same year, my school received an “A” rating. I was a bad teacher at a good school. It was pretty humiliating.
I had a conversation this weekend that relates to the question of good and bad teachers. A friend who is often in classrooms told me about a teacher he considers one of the most effective and dynamic he’s ever seen. But when he first encountered this young teacher three years ago, he thought she was terrible and the students in her class were being shortchanged.
But it was the teacher’s first year, and she had no idea how to manage her classroom and spent most of her time trying to maintain order. Now, she has control of her class and has had time to hone her teaching practices and is a wonder to behold, according to my friend.
One of the other participants in this conversation was a woman who trained as a teacher in Europe. There, she spent a year observing and working under a master teacher. And then she taught in a classroom paired with a master teacher. She talked about how vital it was to have that time to watch and learn. I know that more schools have adopted team teaching, but still wonder if new teachers have enough supports in place and enough time to observe.
Here are excepts from the NYT piece by Mr. Johnson. (Please click here to read his full piece. It is worth your time this morning.) Also, take a look at this other Get Schooled post from today, which also relates to this issue.
Like most teachers, I’m good some days, bad others. The same goes for my students. Last May, my assistant principal at the time observed me teaching in our school’s “self-contained” classroom. A self-contained room is a separate classroom for students with extremely severe learning disabilities. In that room, I taught a writing class for students ages 14 to 17, whose reading levels ranged from third through seventh grades.
When the assistant principal walked in, one of these students, a freshman girl classified with an emotional disturbance, began cursing. When the assistant principal ignored her, she started cursing at me. Then she began lobbing pencils across the room. Was this because I was a bad teacher? I don’t know.
I know that after she began throwing things, I sent her to the dean’s office. I know that a few days later, I received notice that my lesson had been rated unsatisfactory because, among other things, I had sent this student to the dean instead of following our school’s “guided discipline” procedure. I was confused. Earlier last year, this same assistant principal observed me and instructed me to prioritize improving my “assertive voice” in the classroom. But about a month later, my principal observed me and told me to focus entirely on lesson planning, since she had no concerns about my classroom management. A few weeks earlier, she had written on my behalf for a citywide award for “classroom excellence.” Was I really a bad teacher?
In my three years with the city schools, I’ve seen a teacher with 10 years of experience become convinced, after just a few observations, that he was a terrible teacher. A few months later, he quit teaching altogether. I collaborated with another teacher who sought psychiatric care for insomnia after a particularly intense round of observations. I myself transferred to a new school after being rated “unsatisfactory.”
How, then, should we measure students and teachers? In ninth grade, my students learn about the scientific method. They learn that in order to collect good data, scientists control for specific variables and test their impact on otherwise identical environments. If you give some students green fields, glossy textbooks and lots of attention, you can’t measure them against another group of students who lack all of these things. It’s bad science.
Until we provide equal educational resources to all students and teachers, no matter where they come from, we can’t say — with any scientific accuracy — how well or poorly they’re performing. Perhaps if we start the conversation there, things will start making a bit more sense.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog