CHECKING IT OUT: What's a ‘highly skilled’ teacher in D.C.?
Back in the day at Everglades Elementary School in Miami, I had a fifth-grade teacher named Berry Shaw. She was known as the second toughest--read that, second meanest--teacher in the place, and I quaked on the first day of class.
She was the best teacher I ever had.
Mrs. Shaw brooked nonsense from no one, not even from Hunter, the endearing class clown. Yet she had an inexplicable way of making me want to do well (not all teachers did)--with “doing well” meaning learning new things, not getting straight ‘As.’ I still have the copy of “The Yearling” that she gave me after she read it to the class, a chapter a day. More than 30 years later, Mrs. Shaw sent my family a note when my father died.
We used to call teachers that knew what they were doing in the classroom “good teachers.” Today they are called “highly skilled” and every parent wants their child to have one in every class.
There are many excellent teachers in our schools today, more than you might think from the lamenting of some critics. But there are plenty of teachers who, quite simply, need to improve, and thus helping more teachers become “highly skilled” is one of the big movements in the education world today.
D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee late last month advanced her administration’s new nearly 200-page framework on teaching and learning that is aimed at creating a better teacher corps. I read much of it, and I started wondering what's going on.
My colleague Bill Turque wrote about the framework, which was presented to D.C. principals in a three-day workshop.
I want Chancellor Rhee to be successful, and I applaud an effort to spell out what good teaching looks like.
There are some practices in the framework that those less gifted in the classroom can use. And though there is a lot of material that is obvious---“Teachers deliver factually correct content” (and “factually correct” is in bold in the document --such an approach doesn’t have to be an insult to professionals.
But some of it sounds like it is.
The framework starts off by telling teachers to plan on developing “annual student achievement goals,” which should be “ambitious” and “measurable.” The next step, it says, is figuring out how to assess--or test--students, and the third step is designing daily lesson plans.
Well, the order is wrong. The first step should be figuring out what you want students to learn, then daily lesson plans are created and only then are tests, er, assessments, devised.
Not a great beginning.
Then I looked at the PowerPoint slides presented to the principals at the start of their workshop. One said:
“LOCATE THE RESTROOMS AND USE THEM AT YOUR CONVENIENCE.”
You may think I am making took much out of this. But any Post official who told a meeting of adult journalists that they had permission to use the toilet whenever they wanted would be shouted off the dais.
How much infantilizing is going on here? I can’t believe teachers really need this information.
I moved on to a section called “Prioritizing Standards,” which included a slide that said:
“Why Do We Prioritize?
*We prioritize to distinguish between the priority standards that can anchor a unit and those standards that can be clustered to support the priority standard.”
Aside from the fact that the explanation is so tortured that it doesn’t really answer the question, one wonders what teacher in any system doesn’t know about prioritizing.
If they don’t, stop training them. Fire them.
There were other disturbing parts of the framework as well, including the fact that so much education jargon.
For example, it says that effective teachers, “create objective-driven daily lessons.”
Why do they do this? Read on:
“Objective-driven daily lessons ensure that all instructional decisions and strategies used in a lesson are chosen to further students’ progress toward mastery of the lesson objectives,” it says.
English translation: Teachers should teach important stuff in a way that kids really learn it.
The use of jargon makes specific sentences tough to comprehend, and more broadly makes it difficult to take seriously what is supposed to be a serious effort to improve a school system.
There’s a lot more to raises concerns. Some of the details about what it takes to be a highly skilled teacher are doozies. (In fact, D.C. schools officials seemed to realize this by saying that some of them may be discarded--leaving one to wonder why they were included in the first place.)
Here’s one I’m expecting not to last long: A great teacher should “never have more than five instances of ‘inappropriate or off-task behavior’ by students” within a 30-minute period of class time.
Never? How can a teacher be sure that that never happens?
If top schools officials infantilize principals, how much do some principals infantilize teachers?
I hope Chancellor Rhee didn’t read every word of her teaching and learning framework. Because if she did, how did she approve it?
Let’s discuss what fine teaching really is.
Tell me about great teachers that you--or your children--have had, and what it was that made them effective.
I’d like to hear from teachers, too, about what they believe are the best ways that school systems can help them improve.
| September 8, 2009; 6:30 AM ET
Categories: D.C. Schools, Teachers | Tags: D.C. schools, Highly Skilled Teachers, Michelle Rhee, Teachers
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