This is my 13th year in education. I can count on one hand the times I've cried during those 13 years (aside from my first year when I honestly cried every day-the first year is rough!). But, today, I cried.
The state of Ohio has implemented a rigorous teacher evaluation system in which each teacher’s overall evaluation is based on a combination of measures including student performance on high stakes tests; student growth on vendor assessments and/or growth on teacher created assessments; building and district Value Added Data and an overall rating based on two classroom observations. My teachers have spent this week compiling their data and sending me countless spreadsheets containing data related to student growth or the lack thereof. This data is to be entered into a cumbersome, time-consuming system that will spit out an overall teacher rating. But, that is not why I cried today.
My teachers are stressed, my teachers are busy and my teachers do not have time to make spreadsheets to prove their effectiveness. But this is not why I cried today.
Today, I read an email from my music teacher. She was apologizing to me because her SLO (which is a fancy name for a test that she had to make to show the state that her students learned this year) did not show that her students made growth. She asked me to call her. So, as my 3 year old twins were having a tea party in my living room, I picked up the phone and dialed her number. Honestly, I hadn’t even looked at her spreadsheet to see her rating because I didn’t care what it said. I know that Becky is amazing, caring, selfless, and talented. I know that Becky is a passionate educator who always puts students first and I was bound and determined to calm her fears.
When Becky answered the phone, I asked what was up. She explained that her SLO for 4th grade didn’t show that they made expected growth. And then she said something that I will never forget:
“It’s just that I was so focused on our year-long jazz unit, our new dances and our 4th grade musical that I didn’t spend a lot of time practicing for and teaching them to take the test…The other music teachers did a different SLO but I wanted to take a risk and do something that other people weren't doing...”
She went on for a few more seconds but I didn’t even need to hear what else she had to say. She had said enough and her words had perfect examples of what school is really for, this was my response:
“Becky, what you just said is exactly why you are an amazing teacher. You care more about kids than your own evaluation. You chose to give them an enriching, meaningful experience as opposed to spending the year preparing them to take a test that supposedly measures their musical ability, but is really to prove that you are or are not an effective teacher. We’ll figure this out tomorrow. It will all work out.”
I’m not sure if my words helped her feel better, but her words have been running through my head for hours. I have replayed them over and over. I will not sit back and let these wonderful people who care for children every day think for one minute that they are not effective because of scores on one test.
That is why I cried today.
I cried because I am so proud of the amazing teachers that I spend my days with. I cried because I am moved by their unwavering spirit and their commitment to keep putting kids first, no matter how hard the state tries to distract them by asking them to test children, compile data and make spreadsheets.
I cried because we will continue to fight the good fight. We will continue to nurture the spirit of the children that we work with every day. We will continue to inspire risk taking. We will continue to allow kids to wonder and explore.
We will not give power to tests that are supposed to determine whether or not we are doing our jobs.
How can we truly measure our impact? I’m not sure if that is even possible. It will be years before we will know our true impact. In fact, we may never know. But, what we do know is that as our students grow and move on, they carry with them many gifts that we have given them. They will use these gifts throughout their lives. They will grow and learn and move on to do amazing things. We will know that we played a part in their future success. This is enough for me.
That is why I cried today.
Don't let the state distract you from your real work. Fight the good fight.
I hope my blog posts inspire risk taking and new ways of thinking. I hope to connect with other educators on our journey to always do what's best for children.