This blog post is written by Connie Gerlitz, one of LEV’s key activists and longtime education reform leader and activist, in response to the Seattle School Board meeting on Wednesday.

We cannot confuse our love and respect for good teachers with the fact that their efforts are not universally replicated in our classrooms, and our children are suffering the consequences as evidenced by their inability to pass required standardized tests, graduate from high school, or take a college-level course.

Teachers and school communities need our help and support – collaboration time, clean and safe classrooms, continued monetary incentives, mentorships, remediation plans, praise and heart-felt thanks.

But students need so much more and one of those things (please notice that I said “one of those things”) is a motivated, caring, innovative, knowledgeable, and effective teacher in every one of their classrooms. We can’t fix ineffective parents. We can’t fix severe disabilities. We can’t fix poverty. We can, however, move toward providing them with teachers that prove that they have the ability to educate them. One of the ways (please note that I said “one of the ways”) is to measure student progress and use that progress as a means (please note that I said “a means”) of determining whether a teacher is effective or not.

I for one have really had it with the rhetoric that says that unless we are in a classroom we don’t understand what good teaching is. It is like saying that unless we are the chef in a restaurant we don’t understand what good food is or that unless we can wield the scalpel ourselves that we don’t know whether our appendix was removed successfully or not. Our food is nutritious and tasty. We no longer are the owners of an infected appendix. Our kids can read.

I have also have had it with the rhetoric that says that a teacher can not be held accountable for results if the student is hungry or doesn’t have a pencil or has a learning disability or is unruly. Get the kid some food – there are all kinds of agencies that will help. Get the kid a pencil – there are all kinds of agencies (PTA for one) that will help. Learn how to deal with the disability or find someone who will. Find out what it takes to get the unruly one under control or find someone who will. And, please don’t tell me that I don’t understand how impossible that is.

Here is a quick story: My mother taught school for 40 years and one of her first students was a blind child (also a neighbor). Blind children were not allowed at the time to be in normal public classrooms in the Franklin Pierce School District, but the parents really wanted him to be in my mom’s classroom. First she learned how to Braille. Then she went to the school board and petitioned to allow his entry into her class. When that was allowed, she brailled all of his needed reading material for 10 years. She opened the classroom doors in that district for blind children. He is, to this day, a highly respected and productive member of our community. That was not a part of her contract, by the way. I could go for days with the countless students our daughter has mentored in and out of foster homes, out of gangs, out of drugs, out of lethargy, out of anger management problems. Her kids move along and she would not have a problem with a test that proves it. She would welcome any help she could get if the test showed she was making no progress.

When I complained once to my mom about not liking to teach students who didn’t care about learning, she took me by the shoulders and said, “Honey, get out of teaching. They are the ones that need your help. The others will do it on their own.”

We need teachers that find a way to reach the ones that really need their help – the others will do it on their own. We don’t really need school at all for those bright, enthusiastic, healthy/wealthy, self-motivators – they will do it on their own.

And, I have had it with the rhetoric that says that a teacher’s effectiveness should not be judged on the actual educational progress of her students. What is it we don’t understand about a test that tells us what a child knows at the beginning of the year and what a child knows at the end of the year? Do teachers not give students tests to figure out if they learned a subject? Is there not a test that can tell us, in part, (please note that I said “in part””) if a teacher is successfully imparting the substance of a subject to his/her students?

I love and admire good teachers and I want to pay them and help them and honor them in every way possible and have spent almost 40 years working to improve the lot of teachers so they could properly educate our kids. The system is not working. Our kids are failing. We need change and we need it now but not the change that says that we will install an accountability system that has no teeth. Why, please tell me why, the union is not in favor of finding a way to reward effective teachers and get rid of the also-rans with a system that has some teeth – a test is just one tooth but it is one of the front ones and is noticeable and harmful when missing.

10 comments on “A motivated, caring, innovative, knowledgeable, effective teacher in every classroom

  1. This is a pretty reasonable statement.

    Let’s add some more. Let’s take this piece and say it all over again substituting “principal” for “teacher”. Then let’s say it one more time substituting “district central office administrator” for “teacher”. Now you have the possibility of some real positive change for the students.

    Oh, and take out that part about neglecting the motivated kids. It doesn’t add anything to the idea, it invites distracting disagreement, and it’s just plain wrong. When the public schools don’t offer anything for motivated students from engaged homes, they leave and everyone is worse off for their loss.

    Personally, I don’t make the direct connection between using student test data as a part of the teacher evaluation and the magical appearance of a motivated, caring, innovative, knowledgeable, effective teacher in every classroom. How exactly does that work?

    I guess it doesn’t matter if there is a connection there or not. They can remain two completely separate issues. Issue 1: we should do what we can to find and hire good teachers, to make our current teachers better, and to remove bad teachers from the classroom. Issue 2: It makes sense to have student progress as some part of the teacher performance evaluation.

  2. “We can’t fix poverty.”

    Yes, we can and it’s called education. How do we somehow miss that connection?

    “I have also have had it with the rhetoric that says that a teacher can not be held accountable for results if the student is hungry or doesn’t have a pencil or has a learning disability or is unruly. Get the kid some food – there are all kinds of agencies that will help. Get the kid a pencil – there are all kinds of agencies (PTA for one) that will help. Learn how to deal with the disability or find someone who will. Find out what it takes to get the unruly one under control or find someone who will. And, please don’t tell me that I don’t understand how impossible that is.”

    Okay as long as you agree that the teacher gets paid extra to be a social worker and/or counselor and/or doctor. Because the food issue? That’s a social issue, not a classroom issue so you need a social worker or counselor. The unruly issue? Again, you may need a counselor and/or a doctor because it could be an issue at home or a physical or mental issue. But sure, teachers, they should be able to do it all. I appreciate that some teachers, including the author’s, go above and beyond but as class size grows and the school day shortens (remember, the district wants more early release days) and demands on teachers grow (testing 6 times a year), where is the time?

    I absolutely think teachers should be evaluated but we have to be fair about how we do it.

    And where is this concern over who makes the decisions in our district? At the school level? You have to wonder.

  3. Here’s my personal experience:

    My kid had a terrible teacher the her first year of school. I don’t know what was going on with that teacher. She was a veteran, but for whatever reason, she started the school year without the commitment to follow things through to the end of the year. She basically never unpacked her bags and never provided any meaningful instruction to the kids.

    Despite the lack of instruction, my kid ended the year way ahead of “expected growth” on the MAP. I suspect the majority of my kid’s classmates had equally excellent growth. Why? They come from homes that value education highly.

    This teacher who was doing nary a whit of work other than coming in every day would not be removed from her position. She might even be falsely reward for her “excellent” work due to student achievement data. All the while, all the parents and staff familiar with the teacher could tell you that she was clearly someone who needed to be shown the door.

    I have zero faith that testing data will provide statistically meaningful data that will be able to provide any meaningful employee management. The samples too small and the confounding factors too numerous.

    It boggles my mind that LEV and others want to put nearly all their hope for the future on what is highly unlikely to make one whit of difference in improving education.

    And SPS wants to toss in some reduction of instructional time too with the new contract? Uh…

    I can think of many ways to improve education for SPS students that will have a much more likely return. How about bringing back summer school for struggling students? Why on earth would the district only offer this for just a few grade levels. Money, I suppose. Money that’s been spent on “performance management”, staff banquets, and “small business” classes.

  4. “I have also have had it with the rhetoric that says that a teacher can not be held accountable for results if the student is hungry or doesn’t have a pencil or has a learning disability or is unruly. Get the kid some food – there are all kinds of agencies that will help. Get the kid a pencil”

    Wow. Way to minimize the experience of children who grow up in poverty, who grow up without boooks in the home. Who grow up with absent or addicted parents. Who grow up on facebook.

    “Buy them a granola bar. Give them a pencil.”

    Uh, hellow, we’re not talking about mere snacks and writing implements here. We’re talking about generation poverty, nutritional deficits, attention deficits….And all you’ve got to say to these children is “here’s a snack. Here’s a pen”?

    Tragic.

  5. “We need teachers that find a way to reach the ones that really need their help”
    How can teachers do this when they’re busy teaching to the test and worrying about their evaluations being based on standardized test scores? Under this “alignment and assessment” regime, teachers will lose the ability to act independently, they will be mjade to conform to the mean. Which brings us to the next statement:

    “We don’t really need school at all for those bright, enthusiastic, healthy/wealthy, self-motivators – they will do it on their own.”

    Really?! Get rid of AP, APP, Spectrum, even at-level coursework? Don’t bother the teachers’ little heads about students who are self-motivated, motivated students “will do it on their own”?!

    omg. So public schools are just for those students who are poor or struggling?!

    Shame on you. Public schools are for EVERY child.

  6. “We need teachers that find a way to reach the ones that really need their help – the others will do it on their own. We don’t really need school at all for those bright, enthusiastic, healthy/wealthy, self-motivators – they will do it on their own.”

    What?

    ALL children need teachers. I’m sorry but I have had it with people who say that bright and/or gifted kids will “be okay”. The highest teen suicide rate is for bright/gifted kids.

    Also, how many kids fit the “enthusiastic, healthy/wealthy, self-motivators”? Seriously? I know many bright kids who (a) are completely not motivated (ask any high school counselor) and (b) need teachers to keep that spark going.

    There should be a cap on who deserves public education?

  7. Melissa, this is the “reform” game: Convince the public that whole schools are “failing” (or even whole districts), rather than just individual students and/or educators. Convince the public by using groupings of racial categories. Under NCLB, for instance, if a school is behind in just one category on WASL scores (themselves highly suspect), the whole school is identified as on a watch list. 25 or 26 categories could be doing just fine, but if one “group” (meaning those various and unique students who checked a little box on registration) does not have rising scores, the whole school can be “restructured.”

    THIS is the crime of “reform”: It ignores all the success, doesn’t care about those students who are motivated and “bright” (what, the other students are “dim”?) and sells the public this “reform” package that includes a dumbing down and standardization of curriculum, teaching to the test, and now, evaluating teachers on how well they teach to the test. All under the guise of helping struggling communities.

    As we read above, there is little interest in students who are going to school, learning, having fun, doing interesting and unique things…”They’ll be fine.”

  8. Where is the discussion on the Seattle principals’ contract which is being negotiated right now? Why aren’t we reading just as much about that?

  9. (typo corrected) You know, I really like the idea of LEV, but I am consistently disappointed with much of what they advocate for. This blog is a good example. Undoubtedly, Connie is well meaning, but this is just empty of any solid arguments or evidence that this “get tough” approach works. It might feel good to get tough, but there’s just so much evidence that neither merit pay or a focus on standardized testing actually help and, in fact, hurt. Take, for instance, a
    research summary on performance pay for public employees at
    http://www.aspanet.org/scriptcontent/custom/staticcontent/t2pdownloads/PerryetalArticle.pdf.
    The following quote summarizes the latest findings (which are
    consistent with past research):
    “our analysis finds that performance-related pay in the public sector consistently fails to deliver on its promise.”
    And, consider this recent research summary comparing performance orientation to a learning orientation at
    http://www.teachingtimes.com/news/focus-learning-performance.htm.
    This study’s definitive finding is that “Children do better in their exams when their teachers focus on learning, rather than on test results”. The author concludes that we must “recognize that passing tests is not the goal of education, but a by-product of effective learning” and “that even when we want pupils to do their best in tests, pressure and performance orientation will not achieve it.”

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

  10. Yes, LEV, where’re all your posts about principals: “quality”, evaluation etc etc?

    Oh, and where are your posts about the superintendent’s evaluation? (recent raise: achieved four of twenty goals, got raise….spent $7,000 district money on catered party where $100 gift certificates to Pallisades were handed out)

    And the board’s? (recent state audit: complete failure of district to be acountable)

    Oh, right, that has nothing to do with your messaging strategy, which, like the rest of the country, is all about those many, many, many nasty old un-quality TEACHERS, the throngs of bad educators that something needs to be done about…

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