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Teacher Appreciation Week: Capitalism says no

“Mark every single one of those exemplary, I mean it,” a co-worker of mine exclaimed to our Professional Learning Committee staff.  “If we do not give ourselves points for the work we do, who will?”

It is nearing the end of Teacher Appreciation week and what the bilingual middle school teacher was responding to was one of the last sections of our new teacher evaluation system entitled “self-evaluation.” The new evaluation whittles teacher performance down to a point system with ratings anywhere from ineffective to exemplary.

Though the Teachscape computer-based system of evaluation is in its second year of use within Albuquerque Public Schools, it is still suffering “system complications” and is not at all transparent in how it actually evaluates teachers. What little teachers have learned of their job status via the system they have learned from discussion through PLC meetings not unlike this one and information provided through the union.

Basically, what we do know is that much of our score is based on observations done by supervisors, students’ standardized test scores and attendance. Reports of cases where teachers dealing with cancer have lost their jobs for missing too many days are not uncommon. From what I have been told a teacher with exemplary marks on test scores can still get a final evaluation of ineffective due to scores from the observation.

Teacher appreciation?

Some cake and coffee in the teacher’s lounge was about all we got for a job well done. That and a message of praise on the district website, “We appreciate our teachers!” But from whom is that message coming anyways? It certainly isn’t coming from Governor Susana Martinez who has been reported saying teachers have it too easy and get paid more than they should considering “all their time off.” Neither is the applause coming from New Mexico’s Education Secretary Hanna Skandera who dug her heels in when a mass of teachers, students and parents rallied against the PARCC standardized-testing that she had part in implementing.

PARCC is another component of high-stakes evaluation for students and teachers. The consequences of not doing well on the test affects students going as far as preventing high school graduation. Due to budget cuts we have already lost several teachers with others left to pick up the slack on top of already heavy workloads. Still others will lose their jobs because of the tests. A seasoned teacher of our own got an ineffective score because of that component and now is not allowed to renew her license. That’s it. Twenty-some years of service to students thrown down the drain. No retirement party; just a swift kick out the door. That revolving door of experienced teachers forced out and new inexperienced teachers put into difficult situations just adds to the disservice to the very poor students whom need stability most of all.

Teachers, students and parents are fed up and are taking a stand against corporate education reform in support of teachers and students alike. Here in New Mexico efforts to squash union membership with Republican and Democrat backed “Right to Work” was denied. This is an important development as the unions provide much needed support for teachers. All across the country a mass grassroots movement has taken over. In Washington state, numerous teacher union locals are going on rolling one day strikes to demand full funding of public schools while students are opting out of standardized tests like the SBAC at startling rates. Nathan Hale High School in Seattle had 100% of its juniors opt out of the test! The move to do so was led by one of its very own students, Elijah Falk, age 16.

It is important to remember that testing is not learning! Students are taken out of class to test for more than 50 hours. When computer labs and libraries are closed due to testing, important teaching assets are missing. Not to mention, the claim that testing gives an accurate representation of student learning is just plain wrong. Tests simply indicate socioeconomic status.

As a teacher the best appreciation for my work I can get is simply to be allowed to teach. Students like Elijah Falk prove students care about their learning as much as they care about their teachers. Getting students out of the classroom and into constructive learning is irreplaceable. I didn’t need a bubble test to see what they had learned on a recent field trip; I heard it in response to what they saw in front of them. Our children are not apathetic. They want to learn. They want to be veterinarians, and marine biologists, and engineers. We need to stand together with them against a system that puts profit over their learning.

 

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