Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The verdict

Two days, countless teacher meltdowns, and a torrent of fear later, the Quality Review proclaimeth: We are well-developed, with outstanding features.

In response, my principal issued a memo praising everyone's hard work and reminding us that "data is our friend."

"Oh, no," I overheard another teacher moan, "this is just going to reinforce everything!" In other words, all the ridiculous pressure that is placed on teachers at my school to collect and maintain their data, all the excrutiating minutiae about how the data should be mined and organized, all of that has been for the greater good, because for the two days some British guy spent at our school, we appeared well-developed with outstanding features. Never mind all the hyperventilating and panicking and literal crying in the hallways that went on in the days leading up to the Quality Review, and never mind that while the Quality Reviewer was outside interviewing students, a colleague was in my office telling me about how one of my students, who's in first grade this year for the second time and still can't spell "the," lives with her grandmother because her father is in jail for killing her mother, who gave birth to all three of her children by the time she was 20 years old.

Don't get me wrong: My colleagues are, by and large, great teachers. They are dedicated, they work hard, they push our students to succeed, and they deserve recognition for it. But the entire process of getting ready for the Quality Review -- of polishing our image, so to speak, so that we came out looking like the best school we could possibly be -- left a bad taste in my mouth. I have students who are in first grade for the second time and who are still reading at a level A. I have students who tell me about the big cockroaches they see in their apartments, or about how Mommy has to go to court on Thursday because she doesn't want Daddy to live in their house anymore, or about the big kids on the bus who told them they should show their mothers the middle finger. I have kindergarteners who tell other kindergarteners that when they grow up, they're going to join the Army and shoot their houses. I have second graders who get suspended for assaulting their teachers. And still it's like our biggest concern is the checklist, the labels, the binders, when I think what our kids really need is structured instruction in social skills, some lessons on how to interact with other people without lashing out, how to differentiate positive attention from negative attention, how to control your emotions in a social setting. Because I see my students get so angry over such small infractions, so full of rage and tears and violence, and for some of them I can tell that it's not a normal childhood squabble but something deeper because at home they get hit or they live in a shelter or their parents have already written them off as "screwed up" or "stupid," and they're six years old and they're thinking, Why on earth should I care that writers express dialogue by using quotation marks?

I have this first grader who's incredibly obnoxious and disruptive and annoying and naughty, and one day he was whining and fooling around and generally not applying himself, so I sat down next to him and told him he was smart and asked him if anyone had ever told him that before, and he shook his head and I told him that in his life there wouldn't always be someone standing over him helping him and that he needed to try for himself, and then I felt like Matthew Perry in The Ron Clark Story saying something treacly and absolutely unhelpful. There's a scene in Mad Hot Ballroom -- the documentary about the ballroom dancing program in New York City public schools -- in which a teacher interviews that she wishes she could get inside each one of her students and steer them in the right direction, help them to make the right choices, and I know how she feels, because truly there isn't one student I have in whom I don't see some promise or cleverness or a way to do good.

I don't think we're failing our students. But I do think that they need more than we're giving them, or more than we can hope to give them, and there's no way that we can fix that with a Quality Review.


J said...

i'm sitting here just shaking my head in amazement and disbelief. so many things are messed up, and it's tragic when you think of the way that a positive review will lead to more kids falling through the cracks.

you do good work, keep it up.

Betty said...

In my last school, we spent days preparing for TEA to visit. We had to have all data ready to go in case they asked questions. We also had four kids try to hang themselves in the bathroom. One of these girls was in my class. She had very low self esteem, and another teacher and I would tell her daily how pretty she was. She was beautiful but had already aged and could have passed for a much older person. She seldom turned in work and seemed to drag through the day. Being there for the students is much more important than reviews, evaluations, and filling out forms.

Anonymous said...

from a Young who's not so young
I hear the real teacher talking in you! I can't understand what kind of fog this city is in about what's really happening to students, parents, and teachers in our school system.
The leaders in education today are more interested how pretty their schools look and how good they look. I love teaching, but I feel more like a slave on a plantation and my heart is broken. Broken, because we the slaves are the only ones working in the fields, but there is an infestation killing the crops. These crops are our students! What's even more scary is that were being blamed for killing the soil. Guess what! Were merely the slaves. We don't have enough sense destroy the land we just Work it! Keep you head up because somewhere some child needs you. Just remember why your on the plantation, and how you got there. Hopefully the greed infestation can be killed by faith poison.