There’s Always Dubai

Our daughter is in her third year of teaching–her tenure year–in a neighboring elementary school. For her first two years, she taught fourth grade and this year she’s teaching ELA to fifth and sixth grade students. As I reflect on the almost daily conversations that I have with her about teaching, I’m left thinking about our profession and our expectations for teachers and students.

1. Curriculum

I pieced together my curriculum from the textbooks I found in the classroom and from my college notes, from talking with my colleagues, and from contacting a neighboring school district who I heard had developed a curriculum (which was basically a list of topics and vocabulary), and old Regents exams. She is piecing hers together from the common core guides, EngageNY, the textbook left in the room from the previous teacher, the assessment program on the NYSED approved list that her district purchased, assessment data on her current students, conversations with colleagues and BOCES staff development experts, and the NYS exams.

2. Evaluation

My principal came in and observed me once or twice per year using a simple district created evaluation document. I prepared as I did any other lesson, she observed, she wrote it up and gave it to me. The principal taught the same subject that I did and offered  good suggestions. My daughter spent hours preparing a nine page pre-observation report, discussed it with her principal yesterday, will be observed using the Danielson rubric today, will receive the evaluation and will discuss it with her principal. As it’s her tenure year, I’m guessing this will happen three times this year, I know it will be at least two to meet the ‘multiple’ evaluation rule. She’ll also prepare a portfolio for review and scoring at the end of the year on Domains 1 & 4 of the Danielson rubric–Planning & Preparation and Professional Responsibilities.

3. Accountability

That evaluation was pretty much it for me, along with my interactions with the principal and/or superintendent and my colleagues, and if there was any parent feedback, which I doubt. Now, my kid will have a state growth score based on how much her students grow on the NYS ELA 5th and 6th grade assessments and a score for how many students achieve a 3 or a 4. Those will be combined with her evaluation scores for an overall composite score that will be shared with parents in her District. The quality of her teaching will be judged on this score—and I wonder how much the parents will understand what goes into that score and also important, what doesn’t.

4. Mindset About the Job

I loved my job from day #1, so did she. I worked hard all day, used my preparation periods to their fullest (I had kids at home), and advised everything from the junior/senior classes to the yearbook to the Spanish club with trips abroad. Then I went home and focused on my life outside of school, my family and friends, being a mom. From the contact I’ve maintained with many of those students taught during my ten years at Pine Valley, I know that what they remember most is how I treated them not how well they did on my Regents exam.

Our daughter works hard all day and then never stops. She thinks about/plans for/works on her lessons and her students just about 24/7. Our conversations focus on how to do more for every student, especially those at the top. She obsesses over whether or not she’s doing enough for the little girl who’s at a reading level well beyond her grade level and the little boy who can’t handle the reading level expected by NYS in the common core. Like so many of her colleagues, she tries to maintain joy in her classroom while pushing her students with high expectations. She talks, she asks questions, she worries about so many things that I didn’t have to think about— getting a differentiated curriculum right so that each of her students excels on the NYS assessments, what her school community will think of her if she doesn’t show enough of a gain with every student, and squeezing every inch of learning out of every child–that differentiation is the most important and biggest challenge of our profession. She worries about gaining tenure and preparing her students for the following year, raising her school’s achievement levels for 5th and 6th grade ELA, and if she’ll still have a job at the end of it all.

Are we better as a profession with all of the change? She’s a much better teacher than I was—in part because of who she is and in part because of the demands on her as a teacher in NYS in 2012. But I must honestly say that I sometimes worry that we’ll forget that we are talking about children–who come to us as tiny little people with complicated problems and emotions and needs and dreams–we cannot suck all of the joy out of the school day for the children we serve or for the adults that care for them.

I keep talking to our daughter about balance and perspective and the big, beautiful life that she has–how her life cannot be solely focused on student achievement, SLOs, growth scores, composite scores, curriculum, APPR, and tenure. Not for her and not for her students. And to help keep that balance and perspective and focus on all of the good things in her life–I remind her that there’s always Dubai. Like all of our teachers, she’s got to reconcile herself to “what’s the worst thing that could happen? I don’t get tenure or I land on a teacher improvement plan?” To diffuse the worry I hear in our conversations I now remind her that she can always do something else, she can always get a job teaching in Dubai. 😉

Sound silly? Maybe. But I know how hard she and so many of our best teachers are working and I know that their lives need to be about more than just the work. I’m a bit of an overachiever myself, so I get it. But the thing that keeps me fresh and ready to do my best every day no matter what’s come the day before is my ability to turn off school in my head when I get home. Home is when and where we re-energize, where we clear our minds so that we can bring it all again the next day. Let’s keep that perspective and continue to enjoy our work and our lives outside of school too. We’ll all be better for having done so. I promise.

  1. You are right. What we (both Jason and I) remember most is how we were treated by you and so many other teachers. You were one of the good ones, one of the few. With all the state regulations, I imagine it is hard to keep things in perspective with these kids. They are just kids. There is so much to life than tests and being measured up against the rest of the class.

    I don’t know your daughter but I imagine she is a lot like you, and from what you said here, she is. I’m sure she will find her balance, and her students will never forget her and the difference she has made on them.

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