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A Generation Apart: What

We Expect From Teachers 

 

BY KIMBERLY MORITZ

My daughter is in her third year of teaching, her tenure year, in a neighboring public elementary school. For her first two years, she taught 4th grade, and this year she’s teaching English language arts to 5th and 6th graders.

As I reflect on the conversations I have with her about teaching, I’m left thinking about our profession and our expectations for teachers and students — and how dramatically things have changed.

ON CURRICULUM: In my teaching days, I pieced together my curriculum from the textbooks I found in the classroom and from my college notes, from talking with my colleagues and from old Regents exams.

By comparison, my daughter is developing her curriculum from the Common Core guides, the textbook left in the classroom by the previous teacher, the assessment program on the state education agency’s approved list that her district purchased, assessment data on her current students, conversations with colleagues and BOCES staff development experts, and the state’s year-end exams.

ON EVALUATION: In my teaching days, the principal came into the classroom and observed me once or twice a year using a simple district-created evaluation document. I prepared as I would for any other lesson. She observed me, she wrote it up, and she gave it to me.

My daughter spends hours preparing a pre-observation report, discusses it with her principal, is observed using the Charlotte Danielson rubric, receives the evaluation and has another meeting to discuss it with her principal. Because it’s her tenure year, this likely will happen three times — at least twice to meet the state’s multiple-evaluation rule. She’ll also prepare a portfolio for review and scoring that measures her planning and preparation and her professional responsibilities.

ON ACCOUNTABILITY: That one-time evaluation was pretty much it for me, along with my Regents results.

The kid will have a state growth score based on how much her students gain on the New York State English Language Arts assessments for 5th and 6th grades and a local achievement goal based on her district’s locally chosen assessment. Those scores will be combined with her evaluation scores for an overall composite score that will be shared the following year with her students’ parents. The quality of her teaching will be judged on this score — and I wonder how much the parents will understand what goes into that score and, just as important, what doesn’t count.

ON MIND-SET ABOUT THE JOB: I loved my job from Day 1, and she did, too. I worked hard all day, used my preparation periods to their fullest. Then I went home and focused on my life outside of school, my family and friends, being a mom. From the contact I’ve maintained with many of those students I taught during my 10 years, I know what they remember most is how I treated them, not how well they did on the Regents exam.

My daughter works hard all day and then never stops. She works on her lessons and thinks about her students just about 24/7. Our conversations focus on how to do more for every student, especially those at the top. She obsesses over whether she’s doing enough for the little girl who’s at a reading level well beyond her grade level and for the little boy who can’t handle the reading level expected by the state in the Common Core.

Like so many of her colleagues, she tries to maintain joy in her classroom while pushing her students with high expectations. She worries about so many things I didn’t have to think about — getting a differentiated curriculum right so each student excels on the state assessment, what her school community will think of her if she doesn’t show enough of a gain with every student, and squeezing every inch of learning out of every child. She worries about gaining tenure and preparing her students for the following year, raising her school’s achievement levels in English language arts for 5th and 6th grades, and whether she’ll still have a job at the end of it all.

A Better Profession?
My kid is a much better teacher than I was — in part because of the demands on her as a teacher in 2013. But I worry we’ll forget we are talking about children who come to us as tiny little people with complicated problems and emotions and needs and dreams. We cannot suck all of the joy out of the school day for the children we serve or for the adults who care for them.

I keep talking to my daughter about balance and perspective and the big, beautiful life that she has, how her life cannot be solely focused on student achievement, growth scores, composite scores, curriculum and tenure. Not for her and not for her students. I know how hard she and so many of our best teachers and students are working, and I know their lives need to be about more than just the work.

The thing that keeps me fresh and ready to do my best every day no matter what’s come the day before is my ability to turn off school in my head when I get home. Home is when and where we re-energize, where we clear our minds so we can bring it all again the next day. Let’s keep that perspective and continue to enjoy our work and our lives outside of school, too. We’ll all be better for having done so.

Kimberly Moritz is superintendent in Randolph, N.Y. She blogs at www.ghsprincipal.edublogs.org. E-mail: KMoritz@rand.wnyric.org  

 

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