I have been avoiding the APPR discussion because there is just so much more wrong with your education agenda that teacher evaluations are the least of my concerns. Does that surprise you? That a teacher thinks that teacher evaluations are the least of the problems? Well, if it does, than that is a huge mistake. You see, most of the teachers I know went into the profession for the kids. My husband is used to me saying that I have thousands of kids, when in fact he and I have two daughters together. Every single one of my students is and will always be ‘my kid’. I treat all of them like my own daughters; I just happen to have the birth certificates for the two to whom I gave birth. Your first mistake is to think that I am unique. I am not. Most teachers feel the same way about their students. The ELA teacher on my team actually has a former student of her husband’s living with her family in her house. Teachers have hearts big enough for all their kids.
The next thing that might surprise you is to think that teachers went into teaching because it was a last resort. You know, the idea that teachers aren’t smart enough to go into another profession. I was salutatorian of my high school and graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. in history from SUNY-Albany. I also worked full time in the private sector and went to school full time to get my MA in education, also magna cum laude. One of the teachers on my team actually changed professions to teaching. She worked in the private sector as a veterinarian. So, for us, teaching was a choice.
The problem with making tests worth 50% of a teacher’s evaluation is that tests don’t measure the true growth of a child- especially not a middle school student. Teachers teach children how to become useful, productive citizens of this world. That means that in addition to curriculum we teach kids how to behave appropriately given the place and time. We teach them to be kind, to listen, to wait their turn, and to stand up for themselves. I am continuously amazed by the true life lessons taught by the math teacher on our team. Her favorite one is teaching them to filter their words and actions by remembering where and with whom they are. You can’t bubble in the social skills needed to be college and career ready- but teachers teach those things too.
We four have been together on a team for a long time. We have built relationships with students and parents that have lasted longer than the two years the students have us as teachers. And because we of our beliefs and our willingness to go above and beyond, we frequently have a good number of students who need something more, something extra. Most of those students are poor, have definite gaps in skills, have hair-trigger tempers or chips on their shoulders, are English Language Learners, or have severe or rare learning disabilities. We have had more than a few that had all those things. With us they are in school more often than they are suspended. They complain we are always in their business, but they come back in later years to tell us they are doing okay. They learn that someone cares and we carry them in our hearts forever.
But they don’t always learn enough to make annual yearly progress. They rarely move from a level one to a level two. We taught them the content; we taught them to read better, write better, do the math; but the tests scores don’t show that because their scores were so low to begin with. According to your tests, we are not effective. According to your tests, we made no difference that matters. You are wrong; we made the only difference that matters.
So now we are at a crossroads. Our jobs or our kids. If we continue to do the best we can for the students who need us the most, the new APPR plan will find determine that we are ineffective and we will lose our job. Do we misuse the union, play the game you already think we are playing and demand that those kids be placed in a computer lottery for a team and may the chips fall where they may? What a moral and ethical dilemma you have forced upon us with the immoral and unethical use of standardized tests and meaningless evaluations.
You made said that you respect teachers. Like hell you do. You said that it isn’t personal. Like hell it isn’t. Before every state test I tell my daughter to do the best she can, and she assures me when the test is over that she did her best. I ask the same of my students, and they tell me the same. What are you going to tell them when they realize that their best wasn’t good enough to stop their teacher from being fired? Do you honestly think that kids don’t know that their results will have some impact on their teachers? You must realize that kids hear things and see things and have a really good idea that you are targeting people that they care about. How are kids going to feel, “Mr. I Am the Children’s Lobbyist” when they go back to their old elementary, middle or high school and their teachers were fired? Who do you think they are going to blame? It is just like a divorce- they will blame themselves. Yeah, it is personal. A generation thinking they were not good enough, feeling guilty for hurting people they cared about. Yeah, it is personal.