Friday, November 18, 2005

There's this woman at work

We've known each other for several years; went to the same credential program. She was an elementary teacher, but is now teaching social studies and English at Unnamed Junior High School. She teaches a block of each subject twice a day with an extra social studies thrown in at the end. She has to teach this way (combined subjects) because of her multiple subject credential.

Anyway. I've written before how the top guns are pressuring the English department to all teach the same thing at the same time and the same way. We must have common assessment you know. And how could we do that if we dared go off and teach allusion and figures of speech with our own chosen story, rather than Raymond's Run on page 377 in the Holt Literature book?

The members of my department agree that this is ludicrous, but also realize that we have to address it (placate our administrators).

Not Ms. G. Nope. She's going to do her own thing, damn it. No working together at all. Yesterday the eighth grade English teachers met to discuss what we would cover during the last part of this semester. We have a basic overview of the standards we address each quarter specifically, but that's not enough for our bosses this year.

What we all but Ms. G. decided was that no matter how we teach Response to Literature, or Literary Devices or whatever, we will use the short, multiple choice quiz from the Holt book for each section. These quizzes are written in that same weird-ass way the STAR test is written (you know, testing the writing standard by having the students proofread an essay? Like that makes a lot of sense), and they are short enough that they don't take away from our teaching too much.

And it makes Mr. Principal and Ms. Vice Principal happy. It's not a bad way to make sure we are all teaching the same thing, even if we do go about it in different ways.

Ms. G. is having none of it. "I teach Response to Literature" all the time. I don't need to do an assignment from the book or give them a test to know what I'm teaching."

I know how she feels, but on the other hand, after reading the quiz questions, I know that there have been some holes in terms of how I teach particular standards. Writing a Technical Document? I kinda skipped over that one most of the time. Idiomatic phrases? I'd talk about them as figures of speech and similes and metaphors, but did I use the term "Idiomatic Phrases"? Probably not.

There is a good thing in all of this, and that's making sure that no matter which teacher a student has, no matter what texts are used, we as teachers can cover specific standards, using the same language in each of our classrooms, and use these little 20 minute quizzes to inform our teaching.

Problem is, it's not enough for the top brass, and asking too much of our creative "don't fence me in I'll do it my own way" teachers.


Fuzzy Rider said...

This 'common assessment' stuff will eventually lead to teaching off a script, allowing no deviation or creativity. This is one of the major reasons I have decided to give up (after 17 1/2 years) the teaching business. I suspect that our district will lose several other experienced teachers this year for much the same reason.

I discourage any potential ed students that I come across from going in to teaching. From what I am seeing, it is a profession (at least in the public school venue) with no future. As much as it has changed (for the worse) in the time I have spent in the trenches, I can't even begin to imagine how bad it will be in another 20-25 years! The issue is not, and will not be in the future, money; pay is adequate, if not munificent, in most places. The major factor that will drive people out of education will be bureacracy and working conditions.

I hope that I am wrong about the future of education, but past efforts at 'reform' don't leave much room to hope that future attempts will be any more successful.

OKP said...

If I didn't know better, I'd think you teach at my school.

Smithie said...

While I don't agree with fuzzy on the pay issue I think f.r. is absolutly correct about bureacracy running teachers out of teaching. We might as well not have degrees. It's like painting by numbers! How is a teacher supposed to bring any type of passion, creativity or individual talent for teaching to the classroom when all you your expected to do is plug info into a template?

Jeanie Lee said...

I feel we should look at this common assessment thing more positively.

Since it is obviously a necessary standard to maintain, we just need to work our way around it.

Essentially, we are still the ones breathing life into the teaching process.

It's just like writing an essay. You are restricted by a topic (i.e. the template, the common assessment etc), but it's up to you how you make your essay creative and nicely written (i.e. how you teach)

Let's not be so jaded about the admin side of things and just remember...why did you enter teaching in the first place?

JHS Teacher said...

"Let's not be so jaded about the admin side of things and just remember...why did you enter teaching in the first place?"

Jeanie, I hope you aren't addressing me. I think using tests to inform instruction is fine.

Being jaded about the admin side of things is what happens when creative, quality teachers are being squelched for the sake of standardized testing.

Being jaded is what happens when all the lesson plans one researched, and refined and continue to refine are being thrown out for an almost scripted experience that someone else wrote.

Being jaded is what happens when teachers are not respected enough to be trusted to do their job.

Finally, you say, "why did you ever go into teaching in the first place?"

Well, to help my students learn to think for themselves. To help my students become critical thinkers. To help my students express themselves in writing and speaking the best they can.

And because I love learning. Not memorizing a list of literary terms, or identifying the difference between an Ode and an Elegy.

EdWonk said...

Are you sure you don't teach in California's "Imperial" Valley? I've a colleague who matches the teacher described in this post to a "T."

"Ms. Cornelius" said...

Ha! "Raymond's Run!" I've groused about this over at my place. Memories of teaching middle school English come swooshing to the fore! Now you've made my tic come back....

In all this testmania, watch for the appearance of Direct Instruction, which would drive us insane.