No A's for Effort

Last week my AP drew my attention to a table of my grade's recent practice ELA scores compared with our fall simulation. Specifically she pointed out that my class was the only one which failed to show progress. Ouch.

Over the weekend I sent her an e-mail which essentially thanked her for her support, apologized for missing the mark, and outlined my plan to get my students moving. This of course violated two cardinal rules of public school politics: 1) Don't admit fault and as a corollary 2) Don't expect a pat on the back for doing so.

Two days later, I met with my AP to discuss why things aren't working in my classroom. For some reason I expected a little positive reinforcement, then a discussion of next steps. Instead, after 40 minutes of grilling on differentiation, lesson planning and guided reading I felt exhausted, frustrated and humiliated.

Why was I expecting differently? It occurs to me I'm trying to have it both ways. When I saw the scores a half dozen excuses flew through my mind, but I brushed them aside. But, while embracing a "no excuses" attitude, I was unwilling to commit to what that really entailed. Just because I accepted responsibility for the data and used it to create a game plan, doesn't absolve me from failure. Student progress is what matters, not my attitude.

It's tough, but it's a realization that cuts to the core of what good teaching means. I know I'm dedicated. I know I'm passionate. I know I care about my kids. And for many people, for many years, these have been the acceptable criteria for being a good teacher. But, that's no longer the case.

It's a difficult and painful shift in definition, especially when using it to assess my own practice. It's hard to face the fact I may not be a good teacher. But, it's not the first time I've had to. An honest self-assessment though is, as they say the first step. Having given a sobering wake up call, it's time to stop looking for affirmation and start earning it by what matters most: helping my kids move.


Mad Jack said…
Specifically she pointed out that my class was the only one which failed to show progress. Ouch.

Did you see the other scores? Such things matter.

Over the weekend I sent her an e-mail which essentially thanked her for her support (mistake), apologized for missing the mark(big mistake), and outlined my plan to get my students moving (mistake). This of course violated two cardinal rules...

...of corporate survival. I suggest you find and consult with an expert in corporate weasel-speak and explain what is happening to you along with examples. You should also read (or re-read, diligently this time) The Art of War by Sun Tzu and The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli.

You got rat-trapped, pure and simple. If I came over to your home and sprayed graffiti all over your front door, would you thank me for it? I'm being rhetorical here. No, you wouldn't, but neither would you hire a few Mossad wanna-bes to adjust my attitude for me, and that's the direction you should be headed in.

Your AP (whatever that stands for) is hired to find problems and barbecue people. She doesn't care about your students and their progress; she cares about her own job security. How long would she last if there were no problems? Now think - if you hired a security company to guard your front door against militant graffiti artists and after a few years you noted that you've yet to see any graffiti or even a captured artist, wouldn't you begin to think that the security might not be needed? But if your personal Mossad caught a few modern day Rembrandts each month, you'd keep them on, right?

By the way, if you belong to a labor union, was your union representative in the room for this meeting? She should have been, and believe me when I say you want the woman rep for this one.

Just what is "differentiation" anyway?

It's great to have an attitude that refuses to accept marginal excuses for failure. I used to have that attitude - if my students failed to learn, it was my fault and no one else is to blame. I learned to keep that to myself.

It isn't that you're not good, for by your writing I believe that you are a good instructor. I think it's likely that you're somewhat disorganized and that you have students that are not easy to teach. Case in point, give me a class of gifted students from upper middle class homes and I'll look like a hero to anyone. Swap that class out for a group of kids similar to yours, and everyone will be reading about us in the morning paper.

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