In direct reference to the title I gave to the previous article asking “Could dedication be penalized in performance evaluations?” – here is a summary of a conversation I had with a dedicated teacher this week. Anecdotal evidence – can it be generalized? Think of your own experience to decide.
First, mention has to be made of subbing experiences in low-income-based Middle Schools compared to more affluent settings. A colleague and I were recently despairing of how outcomes can be improved for children who’ve reached 6th grade without appropriate basic skills and information. They are precocious, have very low expectations of education, and in many cases, act out disrespectfully and aggressively towards the adults who truly aspire to help them. With such shaky foundations, how rewarding can it be to present the prescribed curriculum subject by subject, only to come up against huge gaps in study habits and problem-solving? Add to this erratic attendance, plus crises such as Hurricane Sandy, which put their families and homes under even greater duress, and add students coming into or leaving the classes due to homelessness, foster care, relocation, job losses, etc, and you get the picture.
Whenever I read articles that state”Teachers do this”, or “educators believe that… “, I have to laugh. There has never, ever been the conformity of which they speak.
Now to the (slightly fictionalized) teacher I met, who was assigned to a class in January. Until that time, the class had a continuous stream of substitutes, due to administrative changes and an inability to find a teacher who, after a few days or a week with them, had the stamina to stay. So we have to add a history of rejection and lack of continuity to our picture. But wait! The new teacher is notified that she is assigned to the school for third grade. When she shows up, at first they have no vacancy, but after some research downtown, yes, indeed she is supposed to be there – but let’s see, now she’ll be taking that Middle School Science spot that nobody was able to survive.
After 5 full weeks, the children are finally becoming used to the fact that she isn’t going to desert them. That she has reasonable expectations and plenty of creative ways to make the subject come alive, and that when they happen to act out or swear or hurl an insult at her or a classmate, she will sit down with them and help rationalize and support their journey towards self awareness and consequences – rather than call security and have them suspended. YAY! – can we now address administrative problems, such as the fact that the Science curriculum, due last September, and on which tests will be based, has finally (February) arrived. Each lesson builds on the sequence of experiments the children are supposed to be carrying out – introduce topic, conduct a hands-on activity, and based on the results of that, continue with the study. No kits came with the curriculum guides, and no-one knows anything about them. Have they been ordered? Will they arrive before the end of the year? Ever? Have certain other schools already got them (Yes, in September). Have those other schools been experiencing social crises and breakdowns? No, they were busy learning and doing fun experiments. I know, you’re already outraged – “How are these already disadvantaged children ever going to catch up?” you’re thinking. “But at least now they have a teacher who understands them and can meet their needs while giving them the structure and discipline they have lacked so far.”
But this wouldn’t be a current education story if there weren’t one last kick in the gut. Because this dedicated teacher is out of her license area. She already got a waiver of some sort to stay in the assigned post, but her evaluation will be based on incorrect criteria. (Teachers must meet and pass 7 standards. These include, but are not limited to, instructional planning, delivery of the class material, professionalism and student academic progress). And her methods, results and test scores will be based on what she ought to be doing, and not on an assessment of the fact that she has stepped into the lions den, maintained her compassion and sanity for 5 whole weeks, and effected a change in her students. So in order to get an evaluation that won’t result in getting herself fired, she may have to push for a placement that puts her in her correct license area and grade level, rather than risk putting an untimely end to a career to which this teacher is so dedicated.
I hope that some resolution can be reached in a case like this – “First do no harm”. If fulfilling the letter of the law leaves these children leaderless and abandoned again, without so much as the proper materials, nor a competent teacher to guide them, what kind of world are we living in? What has become of the social contract, that certain children are told on a daily basis that they are expendable – they have to follow the rules, but none of the adults, for whatever reasons, has the ability to hold up their side of the bargain? At what point do we have to recognize that perhaps we are going too far, too fast, and that the collateral damage far exceeds the benefit of such haste?