Hovering Experts, Oppressive Regimes and Corrupt Evals

“Got Rhee? If so, u must demonstrate 22 differ. teaching elements w/i a 30 min. lesson. Effective? Ready…go! http://bit.ly/9zXkFj @TeacherReality on Twitter, June 29, 2010

The comment above is a tweet I posted on Twitter, recently. I decided to expand on it as I wanted to share my experience of having  “experts” and administrators hover over me, critiquing my every move…every utterance…every breath as I teach children in a Title I school.

I’ll start with giving you a little bit of information about me. I started teaching over 9 years ago in a Title I middle school in San Diego. I had made a mid-career change from technology sales and marketing to teaching.  The move was made purely from the heart.  I was tired of chasing money in the corporate world and found that I needed to give, instead of take. So, even with several loans yet to be paid on my MBA degree, I went back into college to learn to be a teacher and obtain a teaching credential. Long story short…I found a job on September 11th, 2001 (what an omen that was and I’ll cover it in a later post), in a Title I middle school teaching Language Arts and World History to struggling readers and ELDs (English Language Development students).

In my new position at a Title I middle school, I soon realized that I was part of the “new regime”…the new teachers that were hired in numerous schools across the county to “bring up test scores” and get rid of non-compliant, higher paid teachers. I was also part of a new approach to teaching and soon had consultants and administrators hover over me, guide me, shape me, critique me, and debrief me to the nth degree as I taught those struggling readers.

Our Superintendent was Alan Bersin whose tactics were brutal and unethical in forcing change upon San Diego City Schools.  If you’ve read Diane Ravitch’s book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, you might remember that Chapter 3 and 4 explain the irresponsible and unethical “bold measures” that New York and San Diego took to spark “dramatic changes” in education.  I lived through that and it was pure and complete hell.  I had no idea what I was walking into. I was an idealist with a goal to make a difference in children’s lives.  I didn’t want to be a pawn in a political game.

What I found at that Title I school, was a lot kids with a lot of needs.  They were bussed in from different parts of San Diego to be given a chance in education.  I was brought in because of my training as an elementary teacher and given the title of  “Literacy Teacher” to teach struggling readers, including ELDs. I was trained, on the job, to teach the students using the Balanced Literacy program.  I was hovered over constantly and given very little leeway to use my own training  and approaches to teaching. I was not to question the administration and was often hushed by colleagues when discussing concerns about the curriculum. In that workplace, the fear was so thick in the air, one could slice it with a knife.  Teachers were constantly in fear and MANY took anxiety meds to get through their day. I quickly learned, by watching others being dragged into the Principal’s office for “debriefings”, to not speak out as the punishment would be NUMEROUS visits to my classroom by the administrators and Reading Coaches. 

Working in this kind of environment was surreal to say the least.  It was as if I were working in a communist country under an oppressive regime.  I began to realize that they had hired me because I had no teaching experience…easily moldable…clueless to the whole picture. I barely survived the 3 years that I taught at that school.  A couple of years after I left that school, I learned that it was turned into a charter school.  

Which leads me back to this “hovering” and evaluation concept. The charter school movement embraces this and I see it in the Title I public school that I teach at now; except this time I am evaluated on whether or not I drop “medium or high level questions” to my students during the 5 to 10 minute “drive-by” evaluations by my administrators.  It is all so contrived and ridiculous to evaluate teachers in this manner.  Ed reformers view teaching as a performance where teachers execute certain teaching elements within a specific time frame so that administrators are not inconvenienced and can fill out their stupid evaluation forms to determine whether or not you are an “effective teacher”.  To the administrators and evaluators, I say this, “Look up from your damn evaluation forms, put them down and stay awhile…teach WITH me…emerse yourself in this thing called education. Don’t be a Rhee who wants to measure teachers using a highly questionable 22 point eval form that really is a tool to fire older, higher-paid, non-compliant teachers.”

It’s amazing the massive  industries that have been built up around education. Everyone is a “fricken expert” on teaching, yet hardly any have taught in the trenches and no one seems to be able to truly define what an “effective teacher” is. They are not going to find that definition in an evaluation form and they are not going to find it in test scores.

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