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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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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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