This is such a broad topic, and I have wildly strong opinions about education in general and specifically about teaching. But I’m going to focus here on the month of January. Whaaaat? What does January have to do with anything?
I teach in a public high school in New York State. This is my 18th year, and the ways that students are assessed and how teachers are assessed have changed dramatically since I started.
My first year at this school, the Assistant Principal who observed me had a stop watch. He would time everything. How long it took for the students to sit down, how long for homework review. And lastly, if a student started to pack up his/her notebook a minute before the period ended, that was reflected in my observation notes as that one minute X the number of school days = education time lost for that student. All of which seems to be completely ridiculous.
Now the emphasis is much more on students being actively engaged, being able to answer and ask critical thinking questions, but most of all, how the students perform on standardized tests.
So what does this have to do with January? We are formally observed a number of times throughout the year, have peer observations and, of course, administrators can, and do, come in whenever they want to see what we’re doing. For one of these observations, we are given a “window” when we know for a fact that administrators will be coming in to do one type of observation.
My window is January.
I don’t believe teachers who say “They can come in whenever they want, I’m always on top of my game.” That’s just not true. No one can be at 100% top performance at all times. That is just bluster and arrogance to me.
I do believe that some people worry more than others. I know that I’m a good teacher, considered a great teacher by some. My students usually do well on their assessments. I have good communication with parents and good relationships with most of my students. We all have students who drive us crazy and students have teachers that drive them crazy. I’m that teacher for some students. But not many. I hope.
I worry about my observations. A LOT. Maybe because I grew up in a military family and it’s like having an inspection coming. I’m über prepared every day that I know for a fact that administrators could be entering my class for a formal observation. We’re supposed to be that prepared every day, but no one in any job is that prepared every day (I hope the President is but not counting him).
So here I am, on January 8th, checking my lesson plans over and over to be sure every i is dotted and every t crossed. And what difference does it make? Not to my job; I won’t be fired. Not to my students; they’re getting a good education already.
It keeps us on our toes. It gives us something to strive for. But in many ways it’s fake. Observations are checks on a list. Observations are required by the state to ensure that the administrators are doing their job by ensuring that we are doing our job.
But all the state really looks at? Not that the teacher has instilled a love for knowledge, a quest for answers, a drive to provide an avenue for success for a student.
They look at how well teachers have prepared students for state exams. How well students perform on state exams. So that’s what administrators look for in the teachers. That’s what teachers look for in the students.
That is what January is for me. My performance to ensure the above happens. And in preparing students for these ridiculous tests, I also hope to instill a love of reading, to spark a light of interest, to send a student out of my class with a dream to learn more.
That’s the thing about teaching.