One story: this semester, I teach two sections of the same class. One class meets at 930AM and has sixteen students, all of whom are native English speakers. The students are lively (probably stoked on the morning coffee); they seem to keep up with the reading. The second section meets at 2PM and has twenty-six students, seven of whom are non-native English speakers. It’s a less talkative class and I don’t think all the students are keeping up with the reading. On the mid-term I gave last week, the morning class earned far more As; the afternoon class had a higher number of Cs.
Clearly I am an ineffective teacher, if I compare my afternoon with my morning test scores.
Another story: Liam’s first grade class was team-taught by a special ed teacher and a general ed teacher; the students in the class were a combination of kids who needed various types of extra help and kids who didn’t need extra help. One student that year had some significant behavior problems and subsequently went to a school that could better serve his emotional and developmental needs. One of the two teachers was brand-new to the school and brand-new to the team-teaching concept. And, horror of horrors, in mid-year, it happened that the brother of one of the teachers was shot and killed in the Virginia Tech massacre.
Let’s just say that there wasn’t a lot of learning happening in that classroom, as the teachers struggled to figure out their partnership and their students, and then had to deal with an unimaginable tragedy.
If there had been testing done that year, I’m going to bet the scores would’ve been abysmal.
A third story: Have any of you ever had a dinner party? A real dinner party, where you carefully invite the guests, plan the menu, spring for the fifteen-dollar bottle of wine as opposed to the Two Buck Chuck? And then the party for whatever reason fizzles? But other times, people stop by, you order pizza or whip up some kind of soup, the Two Buck Chuck goes down easy and you have a wonderful night of laughter and conversation?
Teaching reminds me a bit of throwing a party (if you were dumb enough to throw a party two, three, five times a week). You can do all the planning and organizing and prep work in the world, but if the guests aren’t willing, you can’t force them to have fun. We’ve all been at those parties, right, where the hostess smiles maniacally and insists that you have another locally sourced organically grown whipped kudzu foam canapé, and all you can think is “jesus, for this I got off the couch?”
There’s talk afoot these days that “all” we need to do to fix public education is find effective teachers and get rid of the ineffective teachers. So simple, right? We don’t need to worry about poverty, over-crowding, inadequate classroom supplies, or anything else. We just need better classroom managers! At least, that seems to be the theory espoused by Michelle Rhee (glam edu-gal about town, unofficial star of “Waiting for Superman,” and free-floating reformer). In this week’s New York magazine, Rhee–ex-chancellor of the D.C. public schools–spends a lot of time talking about effective teaching, and she seems willing to let Eli Broad bankroll her ideas (click here for a less-flattering portrait of Broad than what Rhee says).
New York City has fallen with this effective teacher idea, too, with its “teacher data reports” that measure (or attempt to measure) the teacher’s value-added score. The value-added score gets compiled through some incredibly arcane formula that even its supporters admit might be both too complicated and…um…inaccurate. So, for instance, a wonderful new teacher interviewed by Michael Winerip in The New York Times last week, got a score that placed her in the 7th percentile—but that score could be actually as low as zero, or as high as the 52nd percentile. And even that higher number doesn’t do justice to the glowing reports this teacher regular gets from her peers, her principal, and her students, many of whom go on to the city’s most competitive high schools.
So your dinner party flops because one couple has had a huge fight in the cab on the way over, another guest heard some disturbing news at the doctor’s office earlier and is distracted, your husband drinks too much and tells bad jokes, the scintillating new friends from your job prove to be insufferable snobs. Does that make you an ineffective hostess? Continue Reading →