Thursday, December 4, 2014

On Teacher Efficiency

I am literally the. world's. slowest. teacher.

It's a combination of things - I'm lazy and I procrastinate. But, also, I'm a perfectionist. Is that weird? Being lazy and a perfectionist? Maybe I'm lazy and I procrastinate, because I know it will take so long to get it perfect.

Writing a lesson plan or grading a test can literally take me days of work. This is not normal behavior. I marvel at the teachers who seem to have everything down and fly through their work. (Even though - snarky comment ahead - I know their work is not as beautiful as mine ;) Humbling comment follow up: but does it really need to be beautiful when students will look at it for less than 24 hours in total time?)

Anyway, I've been teaching for five years and I become more crazy about perfection each year to a fault. I don't think this will change. I'm neurotic and I know. There is conflicting information on whether neurotic people will live longer or shorter lives. However, I'm neurotic and not dumb and know something has to change if not my neuroticism. Here's what that change looks like for better efficiency:

1. Multiple choice quizzes and tests. If the MCATs can judge applicants on their medical knowledge and their aptitude for medical school through multiple choice, so can I. Grading time will not make me cry. If you search "writing better multiple choice questions," BYU and Vanderbilt have some useful tips if you're concerned about the quality of your multiple choice questions.

2. Rubrics. They take time to write, but make grading so much easier!

3. Try to grade something quickly after you receive them back - it's harder and harder to get back to it after a long time has passed.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

the value of teachers

people don't look at their macbooks or iphones and say, "i wish steve jobs didn't work 12+ hour days." and i'm no steve jobs, but i'm tired of people telling me to stop working so long at school and, basically, to get a life. life is this journey around the sun that begs you to give those trips meaning. for some, that's having kids or finding a life companion, but for me, it's the legacy i hope to leave through my work. this priority may change if/when i decide to have kids and/ find a life companion, but i am perfectly happy with leaving my own, personal mark that i made with my own blood (i'm clumsy), sweat (the a/c at school doesn't always work), and tears (i have issues). i can't help but to wonder how much of people's well-intentioned, "get out of your classroom/it's terrible that you work so hard," has to do with the fact that i'm a woman and am "wasting away my youth" not finding a man or bearing children. but i'm a little busy, because i happen to have exactly 186 of them this year. or maybe it's because i'm not inventing the next iphone. but i promise you, if i do this right, what i'm making has the potential to be so. much. better.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

If I Ran the Zoo #1: Teacher Tenure

When I was in a elementary school, I collected Dr. Seuss books. One of them was called If I Ran the Zoo and I think it's an appropriate name for this series, where I hope to talk about current topics in education and my opinion on them as a generally competent, relatively new teacher.

Teacher Tenure

The facts:

1. There are incompetent teachers. There are teachers who hate teaching. I have worked with them. They are teaching someone's children.
2. The incompetent/lazy/bad attitude teachers I worked with were veteran teachers with tenure.
3. Most teachers WANT to become better at teaching.
         3a. Most of these teachers are actively WORKING to become better at teaching.

My opinion:

The teacher evaluation system is not good. I'm sure it's different from place to place, but here's what I've experienced: in PG, as a non-tenured teacher, I was observed once every quarter for about 40 minutes; in Montgomery County, as a non-tenured teacher, I am observed once every semester for about 40 minutes. In PG, the four evaluations did not always happen one per quarter (sometimes it was two or three rapid succession evaluations in the same quarter closer to the end of the evaluation window) or the four evaluations did not happen (maybe two or three). You're supposed to have a pre- and post-conference, but again, this does not always happen - in PG or Montgomery County.

If I ran the zoo:

1. Administrators would be in classrooms more than just enough to do the evaluations. Why? Because people who run the school should know what's going on in the school. I know some teachers are against this, because they feel that some admin are vindictive and are going to try to catch them doing something wrong. (And yes, some teachers are against this, because they ARE doing something wrong.) Heck, I don't love the idea of it either, because it makes me nervous to talk in front of adults. However, I feel that it's a necessary evil. We will get used to having people peeking in.

I would say that at least once a week, I'd like each administrator to drop in a classroom, even just for two minutes. When I worked in PG, I worked in portables/temporaries - NO ONE ever came to visit me unless it was for an evaluation. I literally could have not taught for all those other days. Now in Montgomery County, inside the school, administrators have come into my classroom maybe two times other than evaluations. This past year, the leadership team (admin + department chairs) started to pop into classrooms once a week, however any conversation that they had about my classroom was never shared with me (save a thank you email for allowing their presence).

These visits aren't meant to be evaluative, they're just so you as an administrator can talk about all the great stuff going on in your school and actually be believed that you know what's going on in the school. It's also so the lazy teachers might be pushed to get it together, if not only for the two minutes you're in there. But again, non-evaluative, because you wouldn't be in there the whole class. Just enough to see students ask a question or work on an activity or learn something quick about pre-calculus.

2. Teachers would be given a class off (NOT a planning period) once a quarter or so to go observe another teacher's class. I do this, but I've always used my planning periods. A teacher might say that going to see another teacher's class is a waste of time... not. No good teacher will say this. Because no teacher is perfect. But learning from someone else will get us a little bit closer. Plus, I've always left invigorated and inspired. I've learned something about their content and I've left with an increased amount of respect for that teacher and increased feeling of community.

So I'm not sure if I'd have a sub in all those classes for a period, that would probably be the easiest. But we could also do a study period for all those classes. For example, all science teachers would have off period 1, send their kids to the cafeteria, library, or computer lab, etc. and a sub, team of subs, or administrator would hold down the fort for that 45 minutes. Okay, so I'm not sure on the logistics, but I don't run a school yet ;) All I know is that there is value in learning from each other.

3. Teacher tenure would be awarded for teachers who have been teaching for 5+ years. I say this, because so many people have told me that they didn't feel they were competent teachers until the 4-5 year range. Non-tenured teachers should be evaluated 4 times a year - once each semester by an administrator and once each semester by a department chair. Tenured teachers, twice a year, by department chairs. New to school teachers? First year, you will be evaluated as often as a non-tenured teacher.

Also I kind of think pre-conferences are a waste of time. Only post-conference necessary, and that must occur within a week of the observation.

What if a teacher was not up to snuff? In the post-conference, next improving steps should be talked about and provided in a check list. Another evaluation should be had that year, either already planned or additional.

What if a teacher was still not where they should be? They should be assigned to a mentor teacher in the school who will help and evaluate them for the next school year. Upon this mentor teacher's recommendation, this teacher may or may not be kept. I'm not an expert on tenure (I am just getting it!) or evaluations, but I hope this all seems legitimately reasonable. In short, there should be checks and balances, a one-year remediation program, and protection for teachers who feel that they are being bullied by administrators who don't like them. We need to try to help teachers before firing them.

I agree that unions and tenure and paperwork have made it difficult to fire bad teachers. However, I also think that most teachers are not bad.

I agree that bad teachers seem to be concentrated in poorer school districts. However, being able to fire all these bad teachers does not mean that good teachers will magically flock to these schools. Teacher tenure is NOT why these schools have higher percentages of bad teachers.

4. I wouldn't be against parent/student surveys on teachers. Not open-ended. That could get disastrous. The majority of parents or students will be honest. They will cancel out the crazy.