Risk Taking Not Band-aids

My first observation for Orange County Public Schools occurred and I received a “beginning” rating in DQ1 for my learning targets.  My observer reported that he saw no “learning targets,” even though during this observation they were posted and referred to (with my hand) two times.  The lesson was about the learning target.  Perhaps my observer asked the new student, who comes to my classroom with a three year history of transience, homelessness, familial dysfunction, and a plethora of learning differences (and is CLEARLY mislabeled).  Perhaps my observer (like so many of my students) needed his reading glasses to see the same targets in the students’ notebooks.  Perhaps my observer didn’t see it because the time for retirement draws near, and I, if I were an administrator, would be banking on the fact that administrators get a better evaluation if they rate their teachers low (county’s expectations).   Better evaluations equate to better retirement money.   I, in fact, post learning targets on EVERY powerpoint.  It’s never off my Smartboard because it is the only technology piece that works consistently.  I teach this stuff, for goodness sake, to other educators.  I employ Marzano’s instructional framework because it does equate to student achievement.  I believe that it is important students know what they are learning and why. C’mon.  Why would I not have something that I am philosophically aligned with?

With the current evaluation system in Orange County Publi Schools, teachers cannot take risks in the classroom. Risk generates more “beginning” ratings on areas and domains we move in and out of every day in the best ways possible.  We know our students.  We know our craft.  We know the science.  We know our subjects.  We know our school, our demographic, our limitations, our fears, and our strengths.  We suffer the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” and we also “take arms against the sea of troubles.”  In short, we do it all.

Learning is about risks. We must risk to grow and achieve. When we are fearful, we are weak and ineffectual. The accountability system of OCPS teacher evaluation (and administrative evaluation) is a dog-and-pony show, a “tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Well, almost nothing, except poor student achievement, and teacher retention and wasted tax dollars. Teachers are stifled and crippled by the bureaucratic nightmare and our future generations will be dumber for it unless we change this.   

I created this blog and never have a moment to write anything in it because I am crippled by the amount of time involved just trying to document teaching and learning in my classroom.  Each day brings a new email, a new threat, a new procedure, a new form, and a new student to our classrooms. I ask:  What parent would switch their student in the 5th week of school?  The answers are incredulous and speak of dysfunction, violence, tragedy, and desperation.  Hopefully, they land at my school and that story changes, but so often it is exactly what it is.

It is not risk taking, but a band-aid that brings us to this point.  There is so much generosity and human compassion in my coworkers, school’s parents, and community.  Nonetheless, I say (well, not me, but Shakespeare):  “Conscience makes cowards of us all.”  I am a coward for not fighting the good fight.  I would say to my observer:  Fire me!  Yet, I have a son at my school who is nurtured and loved by amazing teachers, each and EVERY one, and I have a passion for my craft and a desire to create irresistible circumstances that involve risk taking, not band-aids.

What do we do to go forth?  How do we change this climate?  How do we keep our teachers in the classrooms?  We need to be risk-takers.  We need to cross political and ideological boundaries and create a new paradigm.  We need to speak up and be heard.  And if that doesn’t work, maybe we need to walk away and create new places of real learning without the cache and thunder of accountability weapons produced by old fat dominionists in power.   There isn’t a band-aid big enough for this train wreck.