“But he’s been working so hard.”

Posted on September 13, 2009Filed Under grades, professional learning communities, Teaching | Leave a Comment

Dagnabbit. I did it again. You’d think after all these years, I might know better. But they say that the longer you teach one grade, the more you become like the students that you teach. Anyway…

I posted grades online too early. Again.

Every year, since I’ve been been posting grades online (1999), I’ve had an internal conflict (literary term!) about when to post them. Two weeks in? Three weeks? Later? From the git go? It seems there’s a fine line between posting too late: “Why didn’t I hear about this sooner?!” and too early: “OMGOMGOMG! She’s never had  a grade like that before! We need a conference!” (This because, out of maybe 5 grades, one of them is a zero.)

Pretty much every year, I go too early, and this year was no exception. More than a dozen e-mails by Saturday, after posting grades on Wednesday. All of them of the OMG variety. Also, a lot of this:

“But she’s been trying so hard.”

Many kids and parents still have to be disabused (isn’t that a great word?) of the notion that effort is part of the grade. I put a token effort factor into the KBAR response rubric (to encourage more expansive responses), but other than that, the only place “effort” shows up in any of my project or writing rubrics is in the extra credit portion. The state standards don’t say anything about “effort”  or “trying hard.”  Not that the state standards are the only thing (not even close) I’m trying to teach. But most of the time, contrary to what Woody Allen might say about success, merely showing up, or even trying hard, isn’t enough these days.

I see this same way of thinking among teachers. “OMG, he works so hard! I’ve seen him here, still working, at 6:00pm!” Or, “Look at all the trouble she goes to for ______; she works on it for weeks!”

While all this hard work is admirable (and I just thought of another seventh grade three-word phrase: too much work), it doesn’t automatically mean it results in good teaching. Every year, we’re asked to vote for our “teacher of the year,” who then becomes part of the pool for the district award. And every year, invariably only two factors seem to be important: whether (s)he has been so honored before, and how much (visible) hard work (s)he puts in.

Very few of our staff have ever sat in on each others’ classes,  or seen each other teach. So picking someone that way, I guess makes some sense. But, being a BTSA advisor for several years, I had the opportunity (as part of showing my new teachers how the vets do it) to watch many of my colleagues teach live and in person. Couple that with how many times I have been in classrooms doing tech support while teachers conduct class (I’ve done a lot of watching while software or printer drivers install), and in the end I have seen almost every member of our staff actually teaching/conducting class, multiple times.

There’s a lot of talk these days about profession learning communities and suchlike methods of improving teaching. It’s a pretty good idea, since it really just means having time to talk to other teachers about what’s working and what’s not. But I think that the process could be vastly improved if we also got a chance to actually watch each other in action.

“OOOH…So that’s how you do it!”

Tomorrow: Outsiders, Chapter 2.

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