Photo credit: bilso’s photostream on Flickr.
One of the two Intermediate ELD (English Language Development) classes I cover one morning a week has mid-level ELLs (English Learners), many of whom are reluctant speakers and need a lot of oral language development work, which is a natural for me and the lab. The teacher started out wanting to provide me with lessons, but was happy when I pitched in to do planning for the lessons I’m teaching.
Even though I’m looking forward to using the lab with these kids, up to this point, I’ve been in the classroom with them. Due to the general uncertainty we all live under at my site, etc. when presented with options for being observed that all teachers at the site will have to go through this year, I told the administrator I wanted one of the two formal observations to take place when I taught this ELD class. I explained this is because I want an “official” observation in the classroom rather than the lab in case I have a need to return to regular classroom teaching in the next few years. It just seemed prudent, but the nice plus was that it was fun too.
Since the period is short (30 minutes), I picked a short poem from Gary Soto that is in an ELD anthology. It’s called “Letter to a Father in Tulare, California” and is a letter a young boy is writing to his father who is away from home picking crops as a farm worker in the Central Valley. I had students do an organizer to activate prior knowledge, asking them if they had this experience. If they didn’t, I covered this by having the students do a pair share. I read the poem, went through some of the vocabulary and figurative language. I had the table groups do a choral read by stanza. They then finished up by answering some comprehension questions on the same organizer we started with. The kids did a great job on the figurative language, and inference, but stumbled on the paraphrase and recall part. I was packing a lot into a short period, so this was not unexpected.
The part that was really effective for me, was looking at what the students had produced, and discussing it with another educator. It’s always nice to have another adult in the room giving feedback. Overall, the observation went very well, but I couldn’t help but think about how relative this whole process is and Bill Ferriter’s piece at Huffington Post on this issue was very timely.
My district rates teachers on a Exceeds Standards, Meets Standards, Needs Improvement scale. I won’t get my final grade until after the second evaluation, but I have some concerns because what those rating mean is not universally understood. Many teachers regard even a single mark in “Needs Improvement” as unacceptable, and also seem to think the norm is “Exceeds Standards” in all areas. I think that if we are doing our jobs by using good instructional practices, and are being effective (as shown by real student work, not just test scores), then we should be getting Meets Standards, with maybe a few Exceeds Standards thrown in for areas where we did something innovative, or something that was really phenomenally executed. Most of my administrators seemed to have done marks that way, but hearing from other teachers, there seem to be some administrators passing out Exceeds Standards like it’s candy on Halloween and some folks have grown to expect this.
So let’s take this conversation out of the particulars of myself, and my site, and think about what this means for my district. There is not a consistent application of the evaluation rubric. This means that any move towards more holistic and substantive teacher evaluations, could be undermined by poor execution and application. Since I teach in a population group that doesn’t test well (lots of poor, language learners, with IEPs), I’d prefer a well-done human administered evaluation, rather than some value-added garbage, but not if those who rely on those evaluations see “Meets the Standards” as a “C”, rather than a “B”. Maybe this is whey we’ll never be able to create a system like Korea or Finland.
Alice, who wonders what happens in a country where we all expect to be above average, rather than wanting the average to improve because we all are?
(Alice is also stealing blatantly from Jose Vilson doing this, so sue me.)