I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Thursday, March 29, 2012

They Just Don't Trust Teachers

When I went in for my yearly union indoctrination, they told me the goal is to only be a good teacher when I have my observation. That's when the union gives us permission to abandon our usual sloth and really shine; the rest of the time, we teachers pretty much post on Facebook, eat snacks, and let the kids run amuck.

But damn these corporate reformers - they've figured out our nefarious scheme!
The state announced new twists Wednesday in its effort to devise better teacher evaluations: requiring unannounced classroom observations, including some by educators from outside the teacher’s building.
Now teachers typically are told in advance when they are to be observed in the classroom for formal evaluations, which often are conducted by their supervisors. The precise conditions for observations often are spelled out in union contracts. A spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association declined to comment on the new guidelines late Wednesday. [emphasis mine]
Oh, no! Now how will a school's staff ever finish their crosswords and download porn?! Because that's the only justification for this kind of discourtesy and suspicion: a belief on the part of the NJ DOE that there is widespread laziness, incompetence, and indifference on the part of teachers who only do a good job when Big Brother is watching.

You know, maybe there should be some unannounced visits to the double-secret charter school review panels. Or when the super-secret new high school exams are constructed. No? Oh, I see: you don't trust us, or our administrators, but we're supposed to trust you.

When we were talking about cameras in the classroom a year ago, here's what I wrote:
In any case, there is plenty that can go wrong in this sort of research:
Cynthia M. Tocci, director of a research center at the Educational Testing Service, used the framework to critique a vocabulary lesson taped last month by a fifth-grade teacher in Charlotte.
Half an hour into the video, Dr. Tocci noticed that a boy with his hand up had grown impatient after the teacher failed repeatedly to call on him. Eventually the boy threw up his hands in frustration. The teacher had not noticed.
“That’s poor on respect and rapport,” Dr. Tocci said, scoring the lesson with 2 points, out of a possible 4, in that category. (Only egregious disrespect — an open exchange of classroom insults — would rate a 1 in the respect category, she said.)
It may well be as it seems on its face in this case. But those of you who are teachers probably read that and thought just what I did: that teacher may well have ignored that boy because he raises his hand inappropriately all the time and she's not about to give him the satisfaction of controlling the class or stopping other students' learning.

Every teacher has students like this: they have to give an opinion on EVERYTHING, and they want to control the class with their incessant questioning. We can have a legitimate discussion about how to deal with these students, but the fact here is that Dr. Tocci is making a judgment without all of the facts, AND she's missing something obvious a veteran teacher would almost certainly pick up on.

I have long been an advocate of peer-review: it's useful, it's non-threatening, and you're getting feedback from the folks who are down in the trenches with you. I'm not NBPTS certified, but I've known teachers from back in Florida who did the program and found it very useful. Videotapes are used as a portfolio that you get feedback on, and not as a substitute for walk-in evaluations.

I'm much less in favor of this. Nit-picking by "experts" isn't really going to do much to improve teacher quality.
This really is about picking nits. And the more we do that, and demoralize teachers, the more we turn teaching into a job instead of a profession.

But I guess that's the point.


Nancy Flanagan said...

This is not the first time that evaluators have trumpeted the idea that they must visit **unannounced** in order to see what's really going on.

There are all kinds of reasons for pre-planning an observation and evaluation. First--you can avoid a day when there's not much to see. A friend who's teaching in a turnaround school tells me the district-office evaluators (the principal is not allowed to evaluate...) showed up on the (mandated) day that the (mandated) tests were given. So they gave all the newbie teachers low marks for interaction and engagement, because the kids were just sitting there filling in bubbles. On the testing that the district manages!

Pre-planning a visit also allows a teacher to tell an evaluator what their learning goals for a lesson are--so the evaluator has a clue about what the teacher is hoping to accomplish. In that way, it doesn't become a dog-and-pony show. It could actually be a professional conversation, about strengths and weaknesses in a lesson, instead of a gotcha moment.

I am a NB Certified Teacher. And there's a big difference between the videotapes NB candidates submit and what Bill Gates is doing now, with the teacher-eval videotapes they're developing. NB candidates get to analyze and reflect on their own lessons. They get to say--"the kid in the back with his hand raised is borderline Asperberger's, and his parents and I have worked out a plan where he can raise his hand when he feels compelled to speak, knowing that I will eventually call on him." Or whatever.

That's the difference: NB standards insist that teachers be able to explain what they're aiming for, how successful those plans were, and what they plan to do in the next lesson, based on what's clear in the tape. It's an external assessment of teachers' internal planning, decision-making and analysis. When evaluators just look at a video, they can miss context and intent.

That's why it's so ironic that NBPTS just lost federal funding (something they were able to preserve for all 8 Bush years). TFA got federal dollars, and NBPTS did not.

Anonymous said...

What more can they do to teachers? Public floggings, placed in stocks so the knuckle draggers can spit on teachers? After they eliminate tenure, seniority, health benefits, pensions and the unions, what's left. Not to worry, they will always come up with new humiliations for teachers.

Deb said...

By the way that hypothetical student you wrote of on camera who threw his hands up in the air - at a charter school he might be fined or forced to do push ups for his behavior, and his teacher would be the enforcer and congratulated for ensuring discipline and respect in the classroom!

Anonymous said...

God forbid your boss come and watch you work. Maybe they will think you are great, Jazzman. Maybe they will offer valuable tips. Fer crying out loud, isn't a teachers job important enough to have some input?

Really, the people that insult the profession are people like you, Jazz, who underplay the importance and impact of the job to children. You have admitted that there are some percentage of below average teachers in the profession -- would you have them go unidentified and uncorrected behind locked doors and drawn shades? Does a boss have to announce visits and then watch a staged play?

Come on, you are being silly.

Anonymous said...

Question: if an evaluator announces an observation two weeks from now on a Wednesday, are they likely to see an average prepped class, or more likely to see a lesson plan and activity level beyond what the teacher normally delivers?

Just asking. Let's test Duke's integrity on the answer.

Anonymous said...

@anonymous 9:34 AM
You are aware that teachers are currently being observed by their principals, curriculum people and assorted administrators? Many principals will do unofficial drop ins as they roam the halls to check up on things. This is in addition to the regular classroom observations. And when a teacher takes the class to specials (art, gym, music,et.) the class is observed by everyone. It's not uncommon for some principals to stand out of sight by an open classroom door to hear what's going on. Principals are not shy about observing a teacher in action whether it's an announced or unannounced visit. And I said all that without being rude or snarky.

Anonymous said...

So, it's no big deal then. Tell Duke.

Duke said...

Inherent in your question, Anon, is a presumption that teachers will not do as good of a job as they could unless they are under observation. You have reinforced the entire point of this post.

I accept your apology.

Anonymous said...

The average human will, of course, make more of an effort when they are being evaluated under observation.

If you don't think that is true of teachers, then drop-by observation, as experienced by virtually every employee in the world, shouldn't bother you. The evaluators will just see the teachers at their normal outstanding level.

Anonymous said...

Let MY bosses stop in anytime, but who are these outsiders that we're all going to pay for? Anon, ever coy, must know this is part of the search (witchhunt)for the bad teachers that keep him awake at night. Yes, they'll look and they'll find. Make everything fit into a bell curve, maybe--not the kids, they all must be above average--but there must be many many sad sack teachers out there. And the State heroes will find them, and parade them through the streets, perhaps, in the style of the Cultural Revolution.

Anonymous said...

Having taught in NJ public schools for about ten years, I can tell you categorically that current evaluations are already unannounced. Teachers sign a pre-evaluation document after which their evaluator can pop in at any time over the next 20 calendar class days. At any time.

The problem here is the evaluations being done by people with no knowledge of the teacher or students. What if the class had studied hard fo and scored well on a big project or test, and as a reward the teacher was giving them a period of free reading, chess or center of choice as a reward. What would an unannounced stranger think of what she or he was seeing?

A Nonny Mouse said...

I think it would make sense to have, if teachers are to be evaluated more than once each year, one announced observation and one unannounced. That way there can be both the conversation about planning and an explanation of any special situations in each room, as well as a "drop-in" eval. That said, it would be incumbent on the administrators to recognize that dropping in on a test would not be a useful observation. Something to think about in the discussion. I am against the "gotcha" idea, but I do think that it would be smart for one of the formal observation to be unannounced. That way each teacher can be seen at his/her very best, and also at his/her everyday business. Not that in my case there is much difference between the two, nor in the cases of the vast majority of my colleagues.

Anonymous said...

I used to teach in Georgia many years ago when they had the TPAI system in place, devised by John Capie of UGA's Education Dept. The program consisted of both announced and unannounced visits and observations, a collection of student opinions on the teacher (purely subjective!) and a comprehensive portfolio. 1/3 of the observations were done by outside evaluators hired by the state. The program is currently being used in NC, Tenn, SC, Alabama, and Mississippi....
Does anyone see any connection with this?

Hint: It rhymes with White-Do-Werk-Stakes...

Anonymous said...

What if the class had studied hard fo and scored well on a big project or test, and as a reward the teacher was giving them a period of free reading, chess or center of choice as a reward.

So...180 days drops to....what, exactly? And the teacher is being rewarded for....what, exactly?