Ever have one of those days.
Every lesson, every class discussion, every student seems to fit together in one glorious alignment with the universe. Students buzz with curiosity, perseverance, creativity, problem-solving, collaboration. It is a wonder to behold. Those who love teaching know what I’m talking about. Every now and then our efforts not only to teach our content and meet standards, but also to spark our students’ interest, exceeds our expectations. It’s the reason why I chose teaching instead of business, English instead of engineering. It’s the student who asks if it’s okay if his research paper is twelve pages instead of ten because he found such good source material and he’s not quite finished with his ideas. It’s the small group who chose to create and narrate a documentary presentation instead of a plain old PowerPoint. It’s the terribly shy student overcoming her nerves, calling a local journalist to interview for her project, and beaming with pride when she hangs up the phone. It’s the seventh-grade academic team who didn’t place during competition, but began a deep and abiding appreciation for Shakespeare and Francis Bacon. I live for these moments and they’re my “merit pay.”
Of course, anyone who has taught for longer than fifteen minutes knows that these are the golden, mountain-top moments, not the norm, and it’s not because of ineffective teaching or laziness or the lack of careful planning. Sometimes life gets in the way.
This is what worries me about the narrow concepts of teacher evaluations.
There is an assumption that teaching is the easiest job in the world. In a way, that’s true. If all I had to do each day was conduct what amounts to a staff meeting to a group of silent, attentive, note-takers who would then complete the work I assign, then sure–teaching’s a cakewalk.
I could show a PowerPoint, I could lecture, I could assign reading–and my workers, my students, would follow my every order. They would all be fed, rested, and compliant. But students aren’t paid to show up to school the way employees are paid to come to work. Compliance is not the same thing as self-control. School is compulsory and for some the day-to-day grind can make school unappealing at best, hostile at worst. Students come to school hungry, or sleepy, or stressed out over problems and obligations that are outside their control (more on this in another post).
The way I choose to react and use my EQ instead of just my IQ can make all the difference to a student in crisis.
If we limit the measure of teacher effectiveness to test scores, we must ignore the human side of teaching, the messy side that understands it’s impossible for a student to care about comma splices when her mother is dying of breast cancer. It’s hard to stay awake in class if you’re responsible for co-parenting younger siblings or work after school or in the evening to help pay the family bills.
Real students are not monolithic data sets with all variables under control. For merit pay or value added assessments to work, students would have to be little more than empty shells, waiting to be filled with an educational parfait–built layer by layer, year by year. This kind of thinking diminishes the humanity of our students and turns teachers into dispensers.
Resilience, compassion, creativity, coping with difficulties–these are not items on a standardized test, these are ways to handle the tests of living. What good is a content education without these skills?
Teaching, when done fully, is not the easiest job in the world, not by a long shot; however, there is no other way I want to spend my life than helping children–adolescents and young adults–develop the skills they need to cope with what life brings next.