If you read this blog regularly, you know that I talk mostly about writing and nature, travel and revision and books and how to get kids reading. None of those things are especially controversial or political. I have readers and friends and family members who wear both red and blue when it comes to politics, and I like that. I like hearing new ideas and getting a chance to think about views that are different from mine.
But the epidemic of teacher-bashing in our society – in our newspaper editorials and Tweets and blogs and status updates –needs to end.
I recently saw a Facebook post from someone whose work I admire a lot that said New York City teachers “should be ashamed of themselves” for not agreeing to a new evaluation system in time to save the state funding attached to it. The post went on to suggest that if those teachers really cared about children, this never would have happened.
But here’s the thing… That new evaluation system is required to base a good portion of a teacher’s evaluation on students’ standardized test scores, a practice that has exactly zero research to support its effectiveness. In a statement on his refusal to extend the deadline for negotiations in New York City, Governor Cuomo said, “Since we established one of the strongest teacher evaluation models in the nation last year, 98% of school districts have successfully implemented them.”
Ask some of the teachers in those districts about the “success” of this new program, dubbed APPR for Annual Professional Performance Review. In many of the districts that Cuomo is citing as “success stories,” the system is proving to be at worst, damaging to school climate and true literacy efforts, and at best, woefully unsustainable in terms of the time taken for each evaluation on the part of both teachers and administrators.
When I see colleagues from the building I used to teach in – one that was long known for its vibrant interdisciplinary teaching and strong student literacy program – they smile and ask how my writing has been going. And then they all say the same thing: “You got out just in time.”
I loved teaching so much. And that makes me so sad.
Last night, I attended a kids’ music event at the school where I used to work and saw my former principal, a lovely woman who cares about kids and works hard. I smiled at her and said, “How’s it going?” And her response was a shrug, “Well…you know…” She shook her head. She looked exhausted, and she looked sad. She didn’t look that way before her school district cheerfully met the governor’s deadline by implementing its new teacher evaluation system.
Successfully, Governor Cuomo? Visit some of these schools. Talk to some of these teachers and administrators. Ask the kids how excited they are to be starting test-prep in October for an April exam. And ask them what books they’ve read and loved lately. And when some of them can’t answer, ask yourself why. And while you’re at it, take a look at teacher absenteeism rates in the proud districts with the most ambitious APPR plans. I hope you’re tracking that when you look at “success.”
But let’s get back to the issue of this deadline. Who’s the bad guy here?
Imagine for just a minute that we’re not talking about educational politics. Let’s take it to the school yard.
Imagine that a powerful kid wants another kid to do something that he or she considers to be wrong – cheating by giving answers on a homework assignment, for example. And that powerful kid threatens to take the first kid’s lunch money if he or she doesn’t comply by a certain deadline.
In the school yard, we call that bullying. We don’t tolerate it. And I sure hope we support kids who stand up for what they know to be right.
There are many people – teachers and principals and parents alike – who are taking up the fight against APPR-style evaluations that rely on unreliable tests to evaluate teachers. They should not be ashamed of themselves. They should be proud. We should be proud of them. We should be standing beside them. And if we value the kind of teaching that makes kids lifelong readers and passionate learners, then we should be supporting our teachers every chance we get.
Teachers are the good guys. They’ve proven it over and over again – giving up lunch hours to work with struggling students, buying books with their own limited paychecks to share with emerging readers, and yes…shielding students from violence. How very quickly we forget.
So I hope you’ll join me in a promise. When people are bashing teachers – whether it’s on social media or at a dinner party – I’m going to speak up.
Every. Single. Time.