Monday, February 8, 2010

A Tale of Two Teachers

Ran across an old backup disk of mine from when I was in a previous district (its a bit like Christmas for me). In there, I found copies of some emails when we asked for teacher feedback on our districts' standards/benchmarks work (which was back then in preparation for the Model Core Curriculum). There were some very interesting perspectives as you can guess. I thought two emails were worth pointing out.

...I'm not saying that standards and benchmarks are unimportant. However, we spent quite a bit of time three years ago working in our committees on standards and benchmarks. And before that, we spent quite a bit of time developing standards and benchmarks 6 years ago. Now, you are having us examine them again. Will this ever end, or will we be working on the same standards and benchmarks forever? When will we actually have time to work on our classes and what we are doing in our classroom right now? This is not the best use of professional development time."

Keep in mind, this individual is a good teacher. And certainly the feeling that spending time over and over again on something without any end in sight is frustrating. So I understand where this teacher is coming from. And since I was in my second year in the district, I don't know the whole story. Perhaps the work that was done in the past was completely ignored.

However, what upset me then still upsets me today. There is this perception with the teacher that the standards/benchmarks you teach... the "what" you teach... doesn't have to be looked at. Once you have it determined, you shouldn't every have to re-visit it.

Teaching is a profession requiring a professional attitude. Imagine a doctor saying, "I know everything there is to need to know about the human body. I don't need to improve my knowledge of it." Or a lawyer who says, "I know the law inside and out. I'm going to spend all of my time in the courtroom as opposed to the library, because that's just a waste of time."

It is frustrating to have to continuously improve, to continuously have to look at how you do things and continue to tweak them. But you have to do it. The world changes. Schools need to change too, even if what you had worked find.

This is the similar anxiety I see among many teachers regarding the Iowa Core. They will say "here is the latest round of the same ol' stuff we've had, forcing us to adopt new standards and benchmarks (and now I hear there are national standards coming down the pike)." And I understand the frustration. But the attitude that we have to wait for the department of education (or for any body of authority for that matter), before we will actively look at what we teach will only lead to acting out of compulsion. And if you are acting out of compulsion and not because it is the right thing to do, of course it will have no effect on your teaching.

Another email that was compelling:

...I'm not sure looking at our standards and benchmarks is what we should be doing now. Maybe there are some things we need to change on them. But, what we really need to do is look at how well we are actually teaching those things. You and I both know there are teachers who list off they do everything in that list, but are doing a crappy job at it. That's really where we should start."

This teacher, like the first, is not a "change agent" in the school and tends to look pessimistically at professional development, despite doing a good job in the classroom. Teacher B's complaint is typical of the other set of complaints that I receive with the Iowa Core. I really can't argue with what this individual said... I think it is spot on. It is looking for fidelity in what we teach. We say we teach the standards and benchmarks, but do we really? And how thoroughly? This is the heavy lifting of the Iowa Core's alignment process.

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