I admire people's desire to get to the root of NM's specious evaluation system. However, I think we’re asking the wrong questions. The questions shouldn’t come down to how the evaluation system isi affecting teachers. The questions should orbit around how all this insanity is affecting learners and their communities. While we adults are deeply wounded by this purposefully disempowering system, we can take care of themselves. Our children are considerably more vulnerable than we are and deserve to have their needs addressed before addressing our own. Here are my questions, rewritten from those composed by another person, to reflect this reality:
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- How have the recent evaluations affected our students in their development, civically, emotionally, and academically?
- How have similar evaluation systems influenced the opportunities available to our students? (economically, personally, etc.)
- How will mistakes or even the perception of mistakes influence educators in the classroom? How will it affect/infect the way they teach?
- How will this evaluation system impact our so-called “low/failing” schools A) in the content that is taught, and B) in the ebb and flow of master teachers within each district?
- How will the evaluations influence people as they seek to advance their own development as educators and human beings providing needed services to children?
- Are there any other concerns we, as a community, are missing that we should be focusing upon when it comes to the education of our youth… the cultivators of our future?
If anybody listening/reading is willing to ask these questions (or those of in a similar vein) then I would love to have the opportunity to talk to you. I hope that we choose to focus not on how the evaluation system is influencing those providing services for our children- but on how the services they are providing will impact/is impacting our youth.
I don’t teach. I had to give up on teaching my first year in the classroom. Instead, I educate. And when one looks at the roots of that word, one realizes it means that I seek to actively educe young people to become something more. I see my kids as whole beings seeking to grow into the full-fledged, active, and productive members of our community we say we want them to be.
My kids do this to spite a world that works hard to keep them from becoming themselves; a world where the word “student” is sparingly mentioned in our New Mexico State Constitution (6x); a world where their “inherent and inalienable rights, among which are…the seeking and obtaining safety and happiness” are too often seen as pipe dreams and fool’s errands. Such pursuits are seen as wastes of time. When you’re trying to keep food in your belly and the drugs and violence out of your living room… self-actualization is seen as a luxury you can ill afford.
I know this because I my students’ lives are the curriculum. I’d guess I spend a quarter of the year getting to know them, learning from the stories that formed them. Their tales weave a web in which any federal- or state-mandated lesson is easily caught and consumed. Many students who are uncontrollable in other classrooms are cared for in mine. So much so that they produce work that heals them enough to temporarily escape the war zone awaiting them after school. I understand that the PTSD they suffer from is coming from the 87-88% of their waking hours they spend away from the world inside the school. I try to create a safe place for them so that they can learn to be themselves. I am told this approach is a gimmick and that I am only a “force of personality.” These critics choose not to see my methods for what they are…a medical necessity.
The only way people who live with toxic stress can learn academically is to directly address the stressors they experience. I am told to run away from such things, that our kids don’t need to talk about those things, that it just sows division in our society. Well, I don’t know about you, but without bloodshed I don’t know how we can get any more divided. Just like an addict, our schools and the society they serve can only move on and heal once we all admit…
We have a problem. That problem is we’re focusing on programs and not pupils; standardized tests and not toxically-stressed students; teachers and not transformation. Our problem is that our current system is not focused on that which matters most: our children.
Ergo, when I am taken away from my focus on the kids- for hours on end to FILL OUT SPECIOUS PAPERWORK THAT DOESN’T IMPROVE MY TEACHING- it first saddens me and then brings me a burning rage. Thankfully, I use this fire to fuel my life’s work- not to get kids out of poverty…but to END it.
Every moment focused on Teachscape, the name of our evaluation system, was/is time lost connecting with youth and their families; time lost planning lessons that are rooted in fulfilling their immediate material needs; time lost assessing their work so I can instruct them in better ways to empower themselves. I spent well over a calendar week hemming and hawing, time after time, about what was going to make the masters of Teachscape happy. Sure, we had a rubric…but that piece of information was written by people who clearly have only a drop of knowledge when there is a sea of complexity to sail when it comes to what it means to truly educate a child, much less 120+ children!
I am a hopeful man. I believe that EVERY young woman and man in my classroom has been chosen by the Universe to be the one who, dare I say it, saves the world. That is why the time and energy and stress I encounter just fulfilling this system kills me a little inside each time I encounter it.
All of this passion, all my 12-18 hour days (including in the summer), the Poetry Clubs, the organic gardens, the Valley Band Projects (NM Jazz Workshop has more on that)… ALL of this devotion to helping improve the material conditions faced by my students… was rewarded by barely eking by as an effective teacher with only four points to spare. Hell, I was one of the lucky ones.
One of my teammates, who is an outstanding teacher, was deemed as ineffective. Another colleague was a Golden Apple Award winner for this year… she was deemed ineffective as well. Another comrade, not even acting in an official teaching capacity, received exemplary marks (she herself called these marks “laughable”). That isn’t even the maddening part:
None of us understand the reasons why.
We all filed requests for an explanation of our scores. Technically, we all received responses. None of us understand what the PED gave us- a combined Ph. D, two Masters Degrees, and a Bachelors degree among us brought us no comprehension. None of it make sense. It has come to feel as if we are all collectively in an abusive relationship. There is no attempt at effective communication, constant verbal abuse, and the resultant neglect of our children is resulting in an epidemic of ADHD, PTSD, CPTSD (Complex Persistent Toxic Stress Disorder…yes, that’s real), diabetes, obesity, teen pregnancy, etc. And here’s the kicker: we cannot leave because we know the courts will award our children to our abusive spouse.
What may surprise you is that I do not believe this system is failing.
On the contrary, I believe that it is working exactly as intended. A system out of balance gets unpredictable results. Ask any woman or man on the street which schools get higher test scores (and more college-going youth)- privileged or disprivileged- and you will get the same answer every time. Thus, OURS IS NOT A SYSTEM THAT IS FAILING.
I would imagine anyone reading this would say, “Great, you have a critique. So what? What’s your solution, genius?” This is a valid point. I’m not going to tell you how I think we can end this madness. But I can tell you how it must begin:
There are four fundamental questions we are not asking: What is school for? What is school against? Who is school for? Who is school against? Or perhaps those questions have already been answered for us and together we’re all in on this hellish nightmare of a joke.
My students, their families, nor teachers have EVER been asked to answer these fundamental questions. Our answers would clearly inform those who are supposed to be serving our communities as to what we need. Instead, we’ve been told we need more prepackaged programs, more tests, and more “accountability” at every level.
Who knows better what is needed than a kid playing in a park full of spice addicts and paint huffers? Who knows better than a group of students choking on the fumes of 18 inches of human effluent leaking under their school? Who knows better what is needed than a mother who goes hungry four times a week so her children can eat? Who knows better than an educator who councils his eleven-year-old student how to handle her pregnancy?
Apparently, the answer is educational reformers. People who are afraid to step foot into our communities and learn the truth about what we need are making the decisions here. And while their lofty rhetoric says differently, the system they manage seems to get the same results again and again, generation after generation.
What is school for? What is school against?
Who is school for? Who is school against?
Until those served by the schools are asked these questions and their concerns are seriously addressed, we are just arguing about dust in the wind. We’re just playing games and our kids are losing.