Monthly Archives: January 2010

It’s 2010? Already? Well Let’s Change Teaching Forever.

OK…

It’s 2010. I have no idea what happened to the second half of 2009 and here it is…2010. I’m not sure I like it.

I started this site a while back to make myself do something that involved my brain. I said to my self, “Self…You are required to write something here at least, AT LEAST, once a month.” I haven’t. So it is with the best of intentions, hell’s own cobblestones, that I embark on what I set out to do just over two years ago.

I Planned On Procrastinating But I Think I’ll Wait.

I never really set out to do nothing. I am just easily distracted. I know that I have many, many important items on my agenda. Things that will impact myself and others and make all our lives easier. So I decide to write an entry here. See how that works? And if you do will you tell me?

Paying Teachers Based on Performance.

Sounds great, right? Paying teachers based on how their students do on tests. Standardized tests. In fact, Tennessee is working on a plan to tie teacher pay to the performance of their students. And why not, you may ask. After all, it is a teacher’s job to teach right? And what better way to show how well a student learns than standardized tests? Right? Right?

Actually? No. Standardized tests measure nothing but short term memory. Period. And tying the pay of a group of professionals to the performance of children and their ability to sit for three hours in front of a test booklet and a scan sheet is poorly conceived, wrong-headed and downright mean-spirited. Has anyone given this any thought outside of the usual, “It’s for the children” line of crap? I have asked before and I will ask again: Is there another profession that ties monetary compensation to the performance of their clients? Not the satisfaction of the clients or the viability of the product, but the actual performance of the client.

I used to sell computers in the early days of the home PC. I sold very good computers to people who could barely turn a computer on. I even questioned their need for owning a computer. And, in the end, I sold them exactly what they wanted or thought they needed and they went home and completely and utterly failed to make their computers do anything. My boss thought I was a great salesman and gave me a raise. Under the Merit Pay guidelines, my pay would haveĀ  been cut because my clients failed to meet some poorly defined standard of performance.

In my district, we are much like any other district. We have great kids, great teachers and great schools. We also have some bad teachers, some not-so-great schools and some terrible kids. But that is normal and just fine because we get to mix them up and put bad teachers in good schools and great kids in bad schools and terrible kids in great schools and so on and so on. No where do you see a really bad school filled with really terrible kids and being taught by rotten teachers. Just like in real life. And just like in real life, we are afraid to say anything bad about the kids.

You can complain about a school all you want. It’s just a building. Some are better than others. And I guess you can complain about teachers all you want also. But the children? Be careful where you tread. We love our children. Children are our future. Teach your children well with arms wide open. We will even defend other people’s children. Even if those other people are people we hate.

In my district a group of kids were hauled out of school for weapons violations. Guns and knives mostly. Those kids have teachers. Does anyone really believe that the pay of those teachers should be tied to these hoodlums? Kids are being raised by television sets and it is up to a teacher to show that “Take whatever you can” is not a real career path. So why can’t we blame the kids for their own failures? It is easier to blame the teachers and it is way more Politically Correct to blame the teachers. In today’s society, it is impossible to look a 17 year-old in the eye and say, “You are a failure because you are lazy, indifferent and no where near as clever as you think you are. You are a failure because your only role models play professional sports, sing or commit crimes. You are a failure because your parents don’t love you enough to put your needs before their own. You are a failure because you expect everything to be given to you as if you have accomplished something just by showing up. You are a failure because you surround yourself with failures and are too afraid to stand out in a crowd.” But we can’t say these things. So we blame the teachers.

Just Blame The Teachers.

We blame the teachers. It is hard to “get” this very simple statement. We blame the teachers. Teachers. Human beings with families, mortgages, problems and low pay. They get the blame. Real people like Jane. (Obviously not her real name. But very real.) Jane is a teacher who left her profession a decade ago to teach what she knows to others. She has a couple of kids, both in their teens. Her husband is too sick to work but not sick enough for disability. One of her kids is developmentally challenged and the other is gifted but…weird…like a lot of creative teenagers. Both are fantastic kids. She has a car, a house and is trying to get her kids into college. But she makes so little money, after years of teaching, that her kids qualify for the district’s own free lunch program. Jane shows up to work early every day and leaves work late every day. She buys certain supplies out of her own pocket in spite of the fact that her own kids might go without. She loves her students and believes in them but some refuse to learn anything she teaches. And we want to tie Jane’s pay into the testing ability of her students. As if she needs another thing to worry about.

But if we blame Jane for the failures of a few kids that means that we can completely absolve the children, their parents and friends and families, their neighborhoods and communities, the state and the media and the entire nation of any guilt whatsoever. And that is the way we like to live. Guilt-free. So our teachers become sin-eaters and we are pleased.

Sometimes People Just Have Bad Days.

The truth is, evenĀ  the best students have bad days. What if that day is testing day? Is there any way that anyone can impress on a child that today, of all days, is the one day that will define you forever? Can we say “You just can’t “Christmas tree” this test today because too many people are depending on you to succeed. I don’t care if your Grandma is dying, you broke up with your boyfriend, you wrecked your car or if your parents don’t love you and are getting divorced or your dog died. You have to do well today.

No other profession allows anyone to be defined by a single, three-hour event. So why should education? A child is in the public school system for 12 years. How do you measure 12 years? Certainly not with a single high stakes test. Not unless you are completely clueless. Or the Governor of Tennessee.

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