Pre-Planned Classroom Inspections Cheat Kids

Agreeing in advance to which classes will be surveyed dilute any chance of making teachers more effective. So why not use a different and more random process?


(Editor's note: Patch columnist Jerry Heverly is an English teacher at San Leandro High.)

It’s a story that apparently isn’t true, but ought to be.

Czarina Catherine of Russia announced to her court that she would like to take a trip into the countryside to see how the serfs who lived in her realm were faring.

Since the Russian leader was considerate enough to give fair warning her consort, Grigori Potemkin, took advantage of the time lapse to plot out a carefully designed route for the Czarina’s trip. They even went so far as to construct a model village complete with happy serfs for Catherine to observe.

We do the same things at our school.

At our high school my teaching is observed by my supervisor, an assistant principal, every other year. Generally this consists of two or three visits to my classroom.

These forays are planned ahead of time. I meet with the AP and we agree on a date and a class period to serve as a sample of my craft. I lay out what I plan to do.

I know that the kind of rating I receive will depend primarily on which of my classes will be observed.

If the AP agrees to see me teach an upper track (honors) class I can relax. There will be no need to make special preparations. The students will be attentive and cooperative. What I do will show off my skills.

If the AP suggests a lower track (CP) class it’s a whole different ballgame. I will need to plan carefully.

In every CP class there are from two to six unruly kids who hate school and, often, hate me. Another fifteen or twenty are bored but not openly rebellious.

The deeply disaffected kids have been referred to the office many times. I’ve called their parents to report misdeeds. I’ve denied them access to the bathroom because they can’t be trusted in the hallways. I’ve lost my temper with them.

Will they take out their resentments towards me by acting up in front of my supervisor?

I try to plan out the week’s lessons so that, on the appointed day, we are doing something that shows the kind of teacher I am.

But, of course, I also try to add something that will keep the unhappy kids quiet and on task.

I had one girl this year who, for whatever reason, displayed a high-spirited intelligence on the day of my inspection. All by herself she made the day’s lesson a deeply satisfying success.

If the class is in a good mood, if they feel some goodwill towards me, if the room isn’t too cold, if the class is not immediately after lunch (when students are at their most fractious), then I generally get a good result.

But if my students feel resentful towards me or towards the school, or if they find the subject dull, then I’m in trouble.

Either way it’s not a true representation of my teaching.

With so few observations every minute is magnified in importance.  In two years I spend about 1,000 hours in the classroom. To assess this I am watched for about 150 minutes.

Over the years I have tried to get my supervisor to drop in unannounced into my classroom on a regular basis so that she could weigh my pro’s and con’s based on a whole series of valid observations. With luck I could also come away with some helpful hints from someone who is, presumably, a skilled instructor.

In eight years I have had fewer than three actual administrator visits that weren’t preplanned, no visit lasting more than five minutes.  I’ve asked for more, I’ve pleaded for more, but the hectic pace of the school day doesn’t allow for such.

And thus I am reduced to constructing my bi-annual Potemkin Villages.

This column is written by San Leandro High School English teacher Jerry Heverly. Its tag line is inspired by education blogger Joe Bower who says that when his students do an experiment, learning is the priority. Getting the correct answer is entirely secondary. You can read more essays like this in the archives of Entirely Secondary.)

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David July 05, 2012 at 05:34 PM
93% of the private sector working world has no "union lawyer"
Bill Gannon July 05, 2012 at 07:12 PM
And 91% of all 'honor killings' are committed by muslims. Doesn't make it a good thing.
Josh Bakhshi July 05, 2012 at 11:33 PM
Thomas Clarke July 05, 2012 at 11:58 PM
Jerry the students know the real you: bored and indifferent. It really is time for you to move on. Your union preserves your right to be mediocre. Do us all a favor and do vote with your feet and go out in to the real world. You will not last long based on your life experience but at least the SLHS will have a chance to get a teacher who cares who does not have the baggage or costs that you have.
Elisabeth Huffmaster July 06, 2012 at 07:12 AM
Stuff and nonsense. The stress of working earnestly for a public school and for the public is fabulous training for the rest of the world, just far more transparent in so many ways. Private companies get away with amazing things we can never hope to cover up in the public sphere. I have worked in both and they both have their positive sides. Jerry I hope you do what you love and thank you for sharing classroom stories with all of us.
Elisabeth Huffmaster July 06, 2012 at 07:59 AM
Thank you David. The phrase "... this is not unusual in the working world" should be better placed. I meant to say there are conflicts of personality and reasons to fire or retain regularly in the work place. Turn-overs happen in school districts for many reasons. Tenure can be hard to achieve in districts that attract and retain good teachers. Other districts take whom they can; a district can't easily shut down a school legally mandated to be open and available. Alameda county's certificated and classified pay scales for school districts are all online; compare them to see one reason for turn-over. Fresh ("cheap") teachers need more administrative support; a teacher's methods build with experience in their community. It is hard to put a value on family elders, similarly the cultural knowledge and program legacies some teachers create on campuses is hard to qualify; students, teachers and administrators may ask their advice for years after they are "new." I was skeptical of a unions' modern role until of course mine reached out to help me. I was in the usual situation of benefiting greatly from an often hated institution with a very important place in history even if that role is changing with the growing number of temporary and contract positions. Being a lone ranger in society is attractive to some, but there is a role for group support of labor. The question is what will that role become as our economy changes from industrial- to information-based.
David July 06, 2012 at 02:16 PM
You have written 4 paragraphs and managed to state very little. What I am able to tease out of words is that, regarding teacher turnover: 1) Tenure is hard to obtain. Response: Tenure has no place in K-12 education, and is hard to justify in college education. 2) Pay is a reason for turnover. For the umpteenth time, California is #1 in the country in teacher pay, and dead last or near dead last (thank God for Mississippi) in public school quality. 3) You like your union. Great. I'd like a guaranteed job at above-market pay too. It doesn't change the fact they they are bankrupting governments the world over. How about a Wisconsin compromise: you can have your union, you can't collectively bargain.
Larry Smith July 06, 2012 at 02:59 PM
Anyone who thinks teachers are overpaid should spend a day in a middle school classroom. I would rather lace my body with razor cuts and swim across a river infested with piranhas and crocodiles than have to lose my sanity trying to deal with a classroom full of 7th or 8th graders. My granddaughter just completed her Master's program to become a middle school teacher for which she may be paid $40,000 a year. What a joke for such an investment of time, money, and effort by bright, young people who believe they can make a difference. The legal profession, especially the ACLU, has made it all but impossible to have any control over school children, making a teacher's job even more daunting and hazardous. Their (ACLU) efforts have necessitated school districts to retain lawyers and special administrative staff members that do little or nothing to benefit the educational process. They are simply there to battle the people who attack the system. It wasn't like this fifty years ago when kids could be punished for anything and everything and parents sided with the teachers. Now everyone is overly concerned about how the child might be emotionally damaged if they are punished for their wrongdoing. What a bunch of hogwash we have created. So don't blame the poor teachers for the mess everyone else created. They just get to step into the middle and try to hold the pieces together while the bombs burst in air, and hopefully, educate our children.
David July 06, 2012 at 03:26 PM
Larry, 1) What you think doesn't matter. The facts are that California teachers are #1 nationwide in pay. They are #1 in pay while at the same time California students are dead last or near dead last in a variety of outcome measurements. You can believe teachers are underpaid, fine. How much above #1 in pay should they be? 2) Your granddaughter's Master degree is a symptom of a larger problem. A credential like that is next to meaningless. Everybody harkens back to the good old days 30-40 years ago when California schools were #1 in outcomes. I guarantee you a far smaller percentage of teachers then had Master's degrees. As to $40,000/year starting pay, that's well above market for a college grad working 170 days/year, never mind the above market benefits, which are typically worth another $10,000-$20,000/year. 3) Yes, the ACLU and other so-called civil rights organizations have added to the dysfunction in the system. 4) Who was blaming the teachers?
Elisabeth Huffmaster July 09, 2012 at 04:27 PM
Check out the cost of living index for selected U.S. urban areas. Wages are never as simple as strict comparisons, you should look at cost of living: http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s0728.pdf The links to enlarge the maps no longer work, but look at these maps in this article for number of hours at minimum wage required to afford rent by state: http://www.educationvoters.org/2012/03/16/map-compares-cost-of-living-across-the-u-s/ Now look at the average hours teachers work around the world: http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/09/teacher-pay-around-the-world/ These links might help us understand a difference in pay between the states but not countries. Cost of living, length of required time on campus, and requirements for licensure all figure into the costs associated with becoming and staying a teacher. Here is teacher training as it stands today for the U.S.: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Education-Training-and-Library/Kindergarten-and-elementary-school-teachers.htm#tab-4 For university-educated adults, especially those in math and science, teaching is a vocation, not necessarily a lucrative career in California though noble! David if you and your family are living off the equivalent of a teacher's salary, more power to you. Not everyone is as excited as you are about the compensation for buffering other people's children from each other while conveying a complex set of state standards to the next generation.
David July 09, 2012 at 05:31 PM
Ah yes, the old cost of living argument. 1) Median worker pay overall in California is barely 10% above the national median. Why should teachers (who again produce a product nearly dead last in all national rankings) get 20-30+% above national median pay? Clearly the median worker here is willing to work for a pittance above the national median in order to "enjoy" the other aspects of California. Teachers coming out of college have far more mobility than, say, tech or biotech workers, if you want to live in Madison, WI (a fine mid-sized city) and teach and have more disposable income, you can. By living here, you are consuming a luxury good. 2) We spend the MOST of any reasonably-sized nation (and 3rd most when you count Austria and Switzerland) per pupil. Period. You can argue that even *more* of that should be teacher compensation (how much more, when it's already 80%, you'll have to figure out), but the facts are that we spend far more per pupil than we *get* back in terms of education quality. Indeed, it's always amusing how the same people who think we should pay more for schools, when we're already #1 and get middling quality for it are often the same people who harp on our health care spending being #1 for middling outcomes. 3) As mentioned previously, teacher training has been expanding for decades with no measurable improvement in outcome. It's a waste. 4) Teacher's income ...continued
David July 09, 2012 at 06:01 PM
Let's look at the true measure of a teacher's comp, then shall we. 1) Median pay: in California it's about $65,000 (http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_ca.htm#25-0000). Hours worked: 1100. Hourly pay: $59 2) Scientists' median pay in California: $75,410 (http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_ca.htm#19-0000). Hours worked: 1900 (median full-time hours with a generous 4 weeks vacation/sick/time off). Hourly pay: $39.69. 3) Now not every "university-educated" adult in California has a "lucrative" science or math degree. How do the "others" rate compared to teaching? Community/Social Service: $24.75/hr Architects: $44.75/hr Computer Programmers: $41/hr Nuclear Medicine Technicians: $44/hr (oh wait, these might have a biology/physics background) In fact, to get above a median wage of $59/hour, you're in the area of Pharmacists, Dentists, Lawyers and Doctors. Oh, and how many dentists, scientists, or social workers have pensions and health care benefits that are anywhere near what teachers have? What's your complaint again? The only reason teachers don't make as much money as, say, a biochemist in total is because they work 170 days/year instead of 240+ like the rest of us. But of course when you add in pensions and health care, teachers *do* earn equivalent compensation despite working 30% fewer hours. One of many myths that just won't die is that of the "underpaid" public school teacher. Especially in California.
David July 09, 2012 at 06:18 PM
Jerry has also been kind enough to disclose his salary and stipend. He earns about $88,000/year, counting his stipend for being chairman of the English department. $82k without that stipend. He also revealed that he would have a about $35k/year pension if he "quit tomorrow." He would have this pension, worth about $1,000,000 if it were an inflation-adjusted annuity (which it is the equivalent of) after just 8 years of working for the school. Let's put that into perspective. For me to get a $1,000,000 nest egg after taxes, I would have to save $100,000 per year for 8 years and earn an average 8% annualized return. In reality, a teacher like Mr. Heverly is being compensated (with his health insurance) on the order of $200,000 per year. Now you may think he's worth every penny. UNDERpaid? I don't think so.
Larry Smith July 09, 2012 at 08:24 PM
What axes we grind. There are undoubtedly some fixes that should be made, such as teachers being rated not by local school administration, but by outside administrators from a distant district so that personal factors never enter the equation. Sadly, Switzerland and Austria are pretty much one-language, homogeneous societies which makes for less costly, more effective teaching. In California, children must be taught in more than 20 languages. So something does get lost in the translation: money; lots of it. And thanks to the ACLU, kids in California have more rights than any other country in the world and they take full advantage of it. Kids in foreign educational environments would never get away with the crap that occurs daily in California middle schools. Many of our schools are war zones that should be staffed by mercenaries from Black Water, OR, at least the teachers should be paid handsomely for their efforts if they are in fact getting through to their charges and educating them. Comparing our schools to anywhere else, other than the likes of New York is very disingenuous and unfair. And I can only surmise that some of those posting comments have never had any classroom teaching experience, otherwise they would know full well that there are many uncompensated hours worked outside of the classroom in preparation for class. I know, I have been there.
David July 09, 2012 at 09:41 PM
You might want to look up Switzerland's official language policy again. There are many uncompensated hours in any "professional" job. What other professionals don't get are: pensions, union lawyers protecting your incompetence, retiree health care, summers off, "tenure," all for more or less the same hourly wage. Even in the supposedly lucrative "science" and "technology" jobs. As I've mentioned before, I have classroom teaching experience, albeit at the college level. But it doesn't matter. Or would you have that you cannot criticize the health care system because you aren't a doctor, nurse or hospital admin? The point is more money isn't going to do squat. How can I be so sure? Easy. Education spending has more than tripled nationwide, adjusted for inflation, in the past 30 years and outcomes have flatlined, at best. Only a fool, educated or not, would think that throwing more money at government-run monopoly schools will change them for the better.
Larry Smith July 10, 2012 at 12:43 AM
All government spending has increased by that amount or more, and yes, it is what I call unreported crime. And I agree some of the perks are far too generous and the accountability far too weak. I think the best answer is a voucher system with strict controls. Unfortunately, our government spends money like a drunken congressman on house leave, and they obviously cannot control anything. So, it looks like we will just have to end this conversation with the full knowledge that things are going to get far worse far sooner than much later.
Elisabeth Huffmaster July 10, 2012 at 01:56 AM
The Swiss have FOUR national languages; each state (canton) has an official language. All children learn in school to "fluency" 2 to 5+ languages depending on their origin and educational track. Zurich public school teachers make over $100,000 a year (~CHF 100,000) and have every Wednesday afternoon for prep and/or paid professional development. A teacher at their international private schools makes CHF 80,000 to CHF 120,000. A tenured Swiss professor has ~CHF 200,000 for life. My son attended Zurich public school last year. I assisted in the classroom one day a week. Their social system is family friendly and child-centered. They have learned from OUR educational research (smaller teacher: student ratio means better student outcomes, teaching modalities go beyond auditory and visual learning, play-based education for the young, easy educational roads back onto a path to a lucrative job for young adults, etc.). California pays far less per student then the canton of Zurich does for educational infrastructure and teacher compensation. They are beginning to struggle with our expensive issues: multicultural and socioeconomic disparity, the issues that come with a world-class economy. They are losing homogeneity in the cities as 1 in 8 Swiss residents are foreign-born but multilingualism is honored, cherished and expensive to maintain. Austria has similar issues. Diversity requires more resources, more training and in the modern economy is a strength.
David July 10, 2012 at 03:19 AM
Elizabeth, as I noted, the Swiss are one of two countries that spend more per pupil than the USA. However, of course, there are localities like Washington dc and Kansas city that spend huge (20k+) per pupil and have some of the worst outcomes in the country.
David July 10, 2012 at 03:24 AM
Ps. It costs more to live in Zurich than NYC, and, yes NYC teachers are frequently paid over $100k per year not to teach. The simple fact is that teachers here are compensated at the top end or higher than their skill sets and education would otherwise command in the private sector. In return, we get nearly the worst schools in the country.
Elisabeth Huffmaster July 10, 2012 at 05:35 AM
These Swiss salaries look great. Now multiply by 80%. That is to take into consideration living in downtown Zurich compared to downtown San Francisco, if you did live downtown. Of course over there your education would have been highly subsidized and you could take universal public transit outside the city for about $2000 a year and never own a car but that is another one of many perks of a social-minded system with 100s of years of infrastructure... Zurich is in the top 10 most expensive cities in the world most years. Their teachers still make more than we do here, hands down, even if you subtract their extra "month" of work in the summer, but remember they also get extra weeks off during the year. In the end, it is the same amount of time off, just spread out so much more nicely over the year. Ski week here, Catholic holiday there, etc. What I like best is the required masters degree in Europe. It makes sense to me to study what works, not just for the "normal" person but also for people who in the past would have been labeled "not capable of education" or worse. History is full of abuse of those we do not understand. Education as a field has exploded like medicine has with research about what works deduced from psychology, ethnology, cognitive science, neurology, etc. U.S. teachers are catching up to similar training required in Europe, just not the same salary as paid in Switzerland, most parts of Germany, Japan, Ireland, Korea, Luxembourg, etc.
Elisabeth Huffmaster July 10, 2012 at 05:37 AM
David, that comment about being paid over $100,000 a year to not teach in NYC, was that from Waiting for Superman or which documentary or source?
David July 10, 2012 at 12:12 PM
Elizabeth, 0.09 seconds on Google http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/01/fashion/01generationb.html?_r=1 THIS is a great economic time to be a veteran public schoolteacher. Valerie Huff, a math teacher at East High here, a tough urban school, made more than $102,000 last year. ... and the kicker as I point out above “Guaranteed pension. I hit the magic numbers last June — 55 and 30.” That’s 55 years old with 30 years of experience, at which point teachers across New York State can retire with an annual income of about 60 percent of their top salary — likely to be between $60,000 and $70,000 a year in Ms. Huff’s case. If she’s fortunate enough to live 25 more years, that’s the equivalent of sitting on a 401(k) of about $1.5 million. ... At least in NYC, there are some truly excellent public schools. We don't have that option in SL.
David July 10, 2012 at 12:25 PM
I really, really *love* it when sub-par public school teachers try to do math, including the math teachers. First, the whole Swiss thing is a red herring as I already noted that they are one of 2 countries that spend more on K-12 education. Second, the red herring of cost of living is also just that. In general, workers in California make 10% more than the national average, despite the cost of living being about 20-30% more than the national average. Teachers here make nearly 30% more than the national average, and the total compensation is much higher because of the pension benefits layered on top of the already high salary. Taking the red herring bait, though: Multiplying the Swiss salary, $100,000 by 80%. Ok. What does that yield. I'm waiting, this is, what, 5th grade remedial math? Oh yes, $80,000. So you're saying that teachers here should be paid $80k? Well, "veteran teachers" are (ref: Jerry right here) Are you trying to state that teachers here should make 80% MORE than Swiss teachers? Well, setting aside that Swiss teachers as you generously point out are *better* than California teachers, San Francisco is *LESS* expensive than Zurich. By far (around 40%). Therefore San Leandro is *EVEN LESS* expensive, being cheaper than both SF and Zurich. (all that wonderful transit and "free" education turns out costs something). I don't think you're stating whatever ideas are scampering through your cobwebbed mind.
Elisabeth Huffmaster July 10, 2012 at 04:16 PM
It is cheaper to live in the cantons surrounding Zurich which are the same distance from downtown Zurich as San Leandro is from San Francisco. This is why I mention the ubiquitous public transportation as a perk. And of course I was using the average Swiss teacher income versus the average CA teacher income, not the top paid and not Jerry's salary, This is a red herring for what we should do with our money. Switzerland is smaller, has more money per capita and hundreds more years of infrastructure. What will they do with their resources and a blossoming economy attracting over a million foreigners to the opportunities? The Swiss remind me of the U.S. so many people remember with nostalgia, an economic success in the aftermath of the decimation of Europe. I share best educational practices and cross-cultural ideas to counter quick fixes which are the bane of American education. You prefer bullet debate points, David.
Elisabeth Huffmaster July 10, 2012 at 04:17 PM
How to do more with less in our classrooms, including less supervision, is a symptom of austerity measures. We are all at a loss about how to cut the costs without sacrificing the education of this generation. Some would love to sacrifice education for people they feel do not deserve or they do not feel can achieve an education. Who cares if this is the basis of democracy: an educated citizenry. And why not get rid of the most expensive teachers? The wealthy will always have access to education; the best connected teachers will always be able to work for enough money. There are enough companies and families out there subsidizing them. Will the next generation get teachers able to reason competently? They will be our children's coworkers and perhaps sometimes bosses. Intelligence and gratitude or lack of it knows no class boundaries.
Elisabeth Huffmaster July 10, 2012 at 04:20 PM
And thanks David for the complement of a personal attack. For some that means they are running out of more objective arguments. Please note that trend Jerry both inside and outside the classroom.
David July 10, 2012 at 05:05 PM
Elizabeth, we can turn to cost-effective education "solutions" that actually work across cultures. You're never going to transfer practices of Zurich or Switzerland to the US, which is about as varied socioeconomically as upper Manhattan, Palo Alto, Pac Heights and Greenwich Connecticut. But, as I have posted repeatedly, despite your convenient amnesia, there are practices that work. School vouchers work in areas as diverse as New Orleans, Milwaukee, Cleveland and...Holland. At the very least the students have the same quality of education for far less money. We have an entire, mostly urban parallel school system in the USA--the Catholic schools, which produce *far* superior outcomes compared to their inner-city, government run big box counterparts for *far* less money. We have numerous examples of what *works* in an era of austerity. The entrenched feather-bedding public sector unions refuse to change. As for a personal attack, yes, I'm sorry your math skills are sub par. Or your English skills if you didn't mean what you wrote.
Elisabeth Huffmaster July 10, 2012 at 06:52 PM
Being paid in the realm of science professionals is EXACTLY where teacher salaries belong. That is why all the debate. Teaching should require that much training and that much effort and be compensated accordingly.
David July 10, 2012 at 08:24 PM
Elizabeth, let's assume you're correct that teachers "should" be paid the same as PhD level scientists with 10 years of training (at $30k/year average wage during the training decade) working on the next miracle prostate cancer drug, for example. They *already* are paid MORE than the supposedly comparable professional group. Paid more, with more benefits and more job security. As I asked earlier, "What's your complaint"?
Leah Hall July 11, 2012 at 06:33 PM
More of the greatest inappropriate test answers from young children. The light/brutal side of observations and student testing.... http://www.happyplace.com/3907/unintentionally-inappropriate-test-responses-from-children


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