I have never been more eager to learn than during my time as a student teacher.
Everything was new. Every word that my mentor teacher spoke was an opportunity for me to learn something new. Like a little puppy, I waited and wagged my tail at any opportunity to jump into my new role as teacher. Any time I was given a chance to lead a lesson, I ran unbridled into this new world of education, chasing that proverbial tennis ball of engaging pedagogy. I wanted to make a difference every day with every student.
In an effort to understand my students better, I followed a girl (we’ll call her Deja) throughout her seven period day. I wanted to see different teachers and their methods. I wanted to really understand the demands that teachers were placing on these students.
The day started out well. Deja’s math teacher was incredibly inventive and engaged. It takes a lot for me to become interested in math, and he captivated me with his interactive group work. My student group moved from table to table working out different problems and learning from the accelerated students how to work through a problem and apply it to other practice problems. I REALLY enjoyed my time in math, which was a first for me.
The next period was world history. I remember a solid lecture and students quietly and intently listening and taking notes. Third period brought me to a familiar setting: English. I listened to Ms. Britt explain passages in Antigone that the students were struggling with. Then came fourth period Chemistry.
A few of my students, who were really enjoying seeing me in their other classes, told me that they were going to have a test in chemistry the next day. I wrongly assumed there would be some sort of review period or summarization of a unit.
Instead, students performed an experiment where they dropped a pencil on a sheet of paper and calculated the probability of where the pencil would drop on a target.
While this was technically a chemistry experiment, it had nothing to do with their unit of study. Further, the teacher failed to connect it to any chemistry principles, more specifically, the intended model of electron probability that the experiment is supposed to teach. Instead, students focused on basic mathematics and whispered, “what a waste of time.”
The teacher was nice enough and obliged me observing her classroom. You could tell that she attempted to put a short lecture together for me. I know we all have off days, and I could tell that there were some days when she was really on. She wasn’t the worst.
At that same school, there was a teacher who simply stopped showing up to work. She cited “medical reasons” and got whatever PTO she saved in order to stay at home…still, she never returned to the classroom. She could not return, and there were rumblings that she could not because she couldn’t prove her medical issues.
Let’s face it. While there are a far greater number of amazing teachers, there are lemons inside the classroom. These teachers lost their spark for their profession years ago, and are simply going through the motions.
There is a lot of talk about LA Judge’s ruling to strike down state laws making it too easy to get tenure and too difficult to fire ineffective teachers. Many teachers worry about the implications it has for their contracts and job security.
I am not completely opposed to the idea of capitalism in the classroom. In fact, I welcome the idea that I would get rewarded for all of the hours I put into the classroom and that I will be evaluated by my results. I like privatized standards of a product. A coca-cola is going to taste like coca-cola no matter where it is bottled. There is a standard recipe that each bottling plant must adhere to. I have worked in many different settings; however, and realize that there is an inherent problem with this particular model. Students are not soft drinks.
Students are human beings with real issues and true learning differences. I have worked in a school where English was a second language to most of our student body; I have worked in a school where poverty was prevalent; and I have worked in a school where above average is considered mediocre. If I am to be truly honest with myself, some of my best teaching came when attempting to engage the student who was not performing well in the classroom or on high stakes exams. Despite the hours I poured into my low-performing students, they still did not pass their high-stakes exam. Still, some of my proudest moments as a teacher did not come from my high pass rate on an end-of-course test. I still remember those 68’s that should have been 45’s and I consider those some of my greatest successes. I helped a student progress as a reader. I helped a student grow from a second to a fifth grade reading level.
I believe teachers should be evaluated based on student performance. Still, that evaluation should be based on progress, not performance on one exam. Teachers should be regularly monitored; lesson plans should be reviewed; regular feedback should be issued. I have absolutely no issues with anyone walking into my classroom because I know I work hard to be the best teacher I can be. I may not teach like my colleagues, but that is what makes education so great. There are different methods and strategies and our students get an opportunity to learn in different ways.
That said, I don’t think a worksheet teacher should be given the same pay as a teacher who thoughtfully prepares activities or meticulously rehearses a lecture. It’s time for school districts to take a cue from LAUSD superintendent and stop dancing with lemons, but carefully consider their school demographics. We must be careful not to evaluate teachers solely on test performance, but on student progress.