Let me tell you a story…
I knew in 6th grade that I wanted to be a teacher. I remember years of my kid-hood coming home to play school with my little brother. I took whatever I learned and tried to teach it to him with my little chalkboard. “Sit, Rocky, and let me teach you the alphabet,” I’d say. Growing up, my need to teach was reiterated over and over, and I have specific memories of moments pushing me toward the profession:
My 6th grade shadowing project in Mrs. Rice’s class when I followed a lawyer thinking maybe I wanted to be a lawyer instead….then I realized lawyers have to defend guilty people.
Winning the Accomplished MS English student award in 8th grade.
Reading Watership Down to get into 9th grade Honors English and telling myself it would someday be worth it.
Mr. DeHass–the most incredible student teacher I ever had as a teacher.
The day in 11th grade when Mrs. Fulton (known as Goody Fulton after our class read The Crucible asked what we wanted to be when we grew up. My answer? Teacher. Her response: “You really don’t want to make any money do you?” My reaction? I was ok with that.
I always knew I wanted to teach.
When I finally had my own classroom, I loved teaching. I loved teaching high school kids, specifically freshmen. Freshmen were perfectly immature, and I loved that I could laugh 7 periods a day while reading Mercutio’s line, “blind boy Boy’s butt shaft” (referencing Cupid and his arrows), and my students would laugh with me. I loved that no matter what was happening in my personal life, once I walked into my classroom and the bell rang, I was 100% focused on my students. I worked tirelessly, coming in early, leaving late, meticulously planning, reading, reading, reading, searching the Internet for cool and engaging resources. I drank copious amounts of coffee to stay energized. Every day, I woke up with purpose; every night, I went to sleep with purpose. My life was fulfilled and meaningful because 150 kids depended on me every day.
I moved to teach sophomores after a couple of years. I traveled up with the students I had as freshmen, so I was their only HS English teacher experience. The sophomore teacher before me had taught it for several years. It was a new course for me, new materials, but because I knew the kids, I was at a slight advantage. I knew their strengths and weaknesses; I knew how to engage them, and I knew their preferences. Teaching them as sophomores the first time they took the OGT was no big deal for me. As a 10th grade team (all contents) we agreed to only “test prep” the kids during advisory time, which was once a month. So before taking the OGT all students had taken one practice in each area. I was confident that my kids would do well on the OGT. After all the time and effort, the individualized interventions I had provided, the before and after school tutoring, the very specific targeted feedback I took hours to write, the conferencing…..I had put so much of me into what I did as a teacher that I knew the tests would be ok.
When I got the score report, I cried. My OGT scores were just slightly lower than the teacher who had taught it for YEARS before me but I felt crushed. I felt like I had failed my students. Each student that didn’t meet proficiency felt like my own personal failure. My principal said, “this is only one score–that’s it!!” But what I heard in my head was that all my time, all my effort, all my love of the kids and the profession was not enough. The pressure I put on myself was far greater than the pressure from any accountability system, but what I took away from my lower scores was that I was not good enough.
Teacher Value Added reports came out this week and nearly 6,000 teachers across the state of Ohio read two inches into the first page of their reports to see “Below Effective” or “Least Effective” as their designation. 9,000ish were average and 5,000ish were “Above” or “Most Effective.” All of this based on some statistical, mathematical calculation that no one really understands (and having sat through several conference sessions and doing my own research, I still cannot articulately explain myself) and that was never intended to be used this way.
I know how I felt when my score had dropped two points from the previous teacher, and I can only begin to imagine what seeing those words as my designation would have done to my self-efficacy as a teacher. My heart goes out to all of those teachers who bust their asses day in and day out, who wake up in the morning feeling purpose and go to bed at night feeling purpose, who love every student that walks through the doors, who volunteer, coach, come early, stay late, call parents, send emails, pull kids from the cafeteria during lunch, tutor during their plan periods, make learning fun. Are there teachers who are truly ineffective? Yes, but 6,000 out of about 20,000 Value added teachers? No. I cannot believe that.
I can only imagine how demoralized these “below” and “least effective” teachers are. If I received that designation, my gut reaction would be to test-prep kids over and over and over so they did better on this next test—-and is that what we’re going for in education right now?????????? These teachers can now look at their SLO-ing counterparts with the greatest disdain. While VA teacher names are published in newspapers like common criminals, those SLO-ing teachers carry on with their self-made growth measures. This system is unfair and it only divides teachers, driving a wedge between the contents….