A Blog Covering D.C. Education [ABCDE]

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Sep 09 2009

9 Words (Placement, NY Teacher Report Cards and Obama’s Education Speech) on 09/09/09

First, a little placement update.  I’m one of three DC CMs still unplaced.   Although I should expect to be in a co-teaching situation by the end of this week, there is a possibility that I will not be in a permanent teaching position until well after October 1st, which is when the official DCPS enrollment count is done and when teachers are equalized across schools.  At this stage in the game, news like that doesn’t mean that much to me: I’m a little shell-shocked, as it were, inured to the unfortunate news that has been relayed to me via the TFA office.

Second, I read an article about the teacher report cards in New York that were recently “released”.  I put “released” in quotations because even though they were distributed to principals, many (most?) teachers did not receive them.  Here’s a quote that partially explains why:

Ms. Pierre, [a principal], said that she worried about how the reports would affect morale and decided that she would tell teachers they could see the reports if they wanted. Most of those who did, she said, were among the higher teachers.

This baffles me.  A principal justified not giving performance feedback to her teachers on the grounds that morale would be weakened.  How can any teacher justify not seeing an assessment of his/her own performance (regardless of whether or not said assessment is perfect) while “on the job”?  What worries me is that this is one symptom of a broader trend in American public school systems: ignorance of performance feedback.

In every profession, one has a set of responsibilities that must be carried out.  A shepherd is tasked with guiding and nurturing flocks of sheep.  An investment manager is tasked with investing capital and earning a high rate of return.  A teacher is “responsible for organizing and implementing an instructional program that will result in students achieving academic success” (from the first link I found when I Googled “teacher job description”).

Furthermore, in every profession, one is evaluated based on how well they carry out these responsibilities.  And the only way to know how well one has carried them out is by receiving feedback of some sort.  A shepherd would see how many sheep had died over the course of the year.  An investment manager would calculate the rate of return on invested capital.  A teacher would look at how his/her students achieved.

Isn’t that reasonable?  Then, why do some teachers and administrators want to ignore important feedback? Why are they so carefree about not wanting this data?

Third–and finally–President Obama’s speech to the nation’s children was effective and memorable in one particular way.  The basic messages were not extraordinary; on the contrary, they were trite (e.g. “work hard,” “learn from your mistakes,” “take responsibility for your own learning”).  How many times have I heard these phrases?  The what of the speech was not what made the speech effective.

No, the power of his speech came from the fact that President Obama himself was living evidence that following these maxims can lead to success. By highlighting some anecdotes from his own upbringing (e.g. learning from his mother at 4:30am), he showed an apparent link between following those maxims and living a successful life.  His example put force and credibility behind those overused statements by showing that, yes, those maxims actually do work.  The power of the speech came from the who–the messenger and not the message.

I wish I were in a classroom yesterday, so that I could have seen how students reacted to the speech.  According to my roommate, who teaches MS Math in PG County, his classes had a markedly different tone in the afternoon.  Let’s hope the magic of the speech lasts.

As a side-note, I was disappointed by the (conservative) backlash against the speech in the first place (something akin to this parody video).  In particular, Jim Greer has earned a place on my list of (greatly) disliked people for his accusations.  Why does he assume deception and dishonesty on the part of the White House?  Does he lack that much faith in the Presidential office?

Good afternoon and good luck.

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    Really, "A Blog Covering Dilemmas in Education": A (former) English teacher's reflections…

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