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Sunday, March 3, 2013

John Meeks, How about treating teachers like they were more than just numbers on a spread sheet. An open letter to the governor.

Dear Governor Scott,

I have been teaching gifted social studies for over ten years in Florida and never have I experienced the type of fear and intimidation that I have endured either in my service to our nation in the Air Force or in any other capacity in which I have worked.

We would like to believe that education reform is designed to lift our students to a higher level of learning to best prepare them for citizenship and careers.  We would like to believe that the work of our state's leaders is to truly improve our schools to ensure that educators are doing the work necessary to best serve our state and its future.

I take issue, however with the manner in which we evaluate our educators to gauge their work to teach our students and future leaders.  The CAST evaluation system, in my opinion is grievously flawed because the value added formula actually ignores the value of the work that educators do every day.

First of all, the time that administrators are charged with observing educators is limited to small windows of opportunity to grade teachers according to a rubric that is well-intentioned but restricts them to what they actually see in the classroom.  In this finite amount of time, principals and their designees only are allowed to record what they see and hear.  I find fault in this because it provides no real context with which to judge classroom performance.

For example, a principal can walk into a classroom and can see that a teacher is sitting down to take attendance.  This is behavior that is frowned upon as teachers are expected to be walking around the room and constantly hovering over their students.  For example, a principal can walk into a classroom and hear students talking about something other than their work.  It is the teacher's fault that they are not limiting their conversation to the work at hand.  For example, a principal can walk into a classroom and observe that students are cleaning up the room to prepare for the next class.  There is no instruction going on, therefore there is no learning going on.

And, once the administrator leaves, whatever flawed impression he or she has of the classroom is written in stone.  It is because of this that I believe that CAST was designed to be a gotcha to drum out allegedly bad teachers for what may have been an anomaly in their performance that includes 180 days of constant work to help our students.

The darker side of CAST is the assessment end of the evaluation which is tied to student learning gains.  Even with value added factors, this is a set-up in my opinion.  The value of student learning gains cannot and should not be forced to rely on students' performance on tests only.  Based on this metric, I am the second-worst social studies teacher in my school and this will become public knowledge when these CAST scores become public record in accordance with state law.

Beyond the numbers, the state sees no value in my:
1.) Tutoring students in the morning before school.
2.) Providing breakfast foods to students who did not eat on any given morning.
3.) Maintaining an email list through which I regularly communicate with parents.
4.) Publishing a class newsletter to keep families updated on classroom learning.
5.) Posting a website and blog for families to help their children study.
6.) Promoting anti-bullying lessons and activities to promote safe and civil learning.
7.) Working with the school counselor to assist troubled students.
8.) Sponsoring elections-related activities (Field trips, mock trials) for students.
9.) Planning international food days in which world cultures are appreciated.
10.) Encouraging students to explore their options for college.
11.) Drafting individual education plans (e.g. PMP, AIP) for students in need.
12.) Keeping an open line via email and telephone for families to communicate.
13.) Creating and sharing benchmark-based assignments for my colleagues.
14.) Designing a classroom configuration that works best for my students.
15.) Incorporating Common Core-based computer assignments into my classwork.

Under the current CAST regime, all of the above work is in vain because I have received more than my fair share of criticism for not 'caring' about my students because I fail to kowtow to the test through the same bureaucratic red tape and education fads that I have worked in good faith to comply with but inevitably are replaced by something else, negating my previous efforts.  The state sees what they want to see, even if it means slandering or ignoring my work.

I am disappointed because I am often the last person to leave work each day because there is always something else to work on or complete and it is often the custodians who remind me when they are locking up the school.  I am disappointed because there is no metric for the dedication that I have for my students and my school, and yet there is plenty of punishment lined up for me is I fail to make the grade for my students.

This is not the usual ranting of an lazy union flunky who wants to rest on his laurels.  There have been days when I was sick and still went to work because it was my ultimate responsibility to serve the public.  There have been days when I went to work on sick days to collect work to complete in my sick bed.  Instead of appreciation, the usual condemnation that I receive from critics continues because I am a victim of the trite stereotypes that we are all bad teachers who get what is coming to us.

You might wonder why I do not leave for greener pastures.  I should have left after being hospitalized for two weeks last year.  I should have left after dealing with students who did not want to do any work no matter what incentives, prizes and rewards I offer.  I should have left after my test scores remained stagnant in spite of all of my most sincere efforts.  I stay, however, because I trust that our state's leaders will finally hear what our educators have to say about CAST and its unintended consequences.  I keep teaching because I know that a better day for education is ahead and because there will always be a better day for our students if we all believe that we are working as a team for public education. 

John Louis Meeks, Jr.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Comrade - did he read the letter, and did he respond to you? I am a public school teacher of 25 years wish that all legislators had a copy of this letter.

    I am interested to know what he can possibly say for himself after having read this...