Are you a fan of Fringe?
Do you have that odd feeling that you move back and forth between parallel universes, the world of Mortal Kombat: rallies, demonstrations, counter-demonstrations, marching, t-shirts with smart “comments,” lawsuits, “bad” teachers, teacher data reports and the threat to release individual teacher scores to the press, and on, and on; versus the world of teaching and learning: Common Core, Danielson teaching frameworks, teacher-principal dialogues, Depth of Knowledge , etc.
A thousand teachers cram into the auditorium at union headquarters on the steamy last day of school. The air conditioning is a relief! Union President Mulgrew is jubilant, as are the thousand teachers. After a half hour of praise from delegates the budget deal approval is overwhelming, perhaps a dozen “no” votes. Mulgrew makes it clear the battle is far from over. The union and it’s membership have honed their skills, they’re good at the “demonstration thing.” The membership is mobilized, ready for the next fight, the next rally, it’s fun! It has a taste of the 60’s. A taste of the civil rights movement wrapped in the anti-Vietnam war movement.
Cries of “We are Wisconsin,” wear Red day, the “Education Mayor, Really” t-shirt, walking over the Brooklyn Bridge, involving teachers school-by-school in the Mortal Kombat to save schools, save the contract and fighting back.
And, those lawsuits! Last year the courts sustained the union and put the Department school closing agenda on hold for a year. This year the union is back in court, once again challenging school closings, and, the co-location of charter schools.
In Albany the New York State United Teachers, the state affiliate is in court challenging the teacher evaluation law.
The flip side, the parallel universe, is the adoption of the Common Core and the attempt to “professionalize” teaching. Department leadership tells us,
In our day-to-day lives we are rarely faced with problems that have simple solutions. And yet, in classrooms across the country, students are asked questions that have only one right answer. To succeed in college and in life, all students need to master basic skills, but they also need to learn to think creatively, solve problems, make effective arguments, and engage in debates.
Principals are directed to program schools with least two hours of common planning time a week for groups of teachers,
The role of the principal is changed,
Strengthening teacher practice by examining and refining feedback to teachers so that they can develop as professionals. In schools that do this well, teachers know what effective teaching looks like, have a shared language to discuss what’s working and what needs to be improved, and know which actions to take to improve their practice.
As we build our new teacher evaluation process, we have an opportunity to focus on providing frequent feedback that all teachers—no matter where they fall on the performance spectrum—can act on to improve their performance.
In the next school year, we are asking principals and other school leaders to engage in short, frequent cycles of classroom observation and feedback using a rubric that articulates clear expectations for teacher practice.
This summer, principals and teachers, in some networks around the city will be engaging in a crucial dialogue, deeply reading and discussing, Talk About Teaching – Leading Professional Conversations, by Charlotte Danielson. In too many other schools principals are struggling and searching online for the Cliff Notes, that rexo sheet that will satisfy the “higher ups” at Tweed.
On a leadership Education Week blog the author, a principal asks,
How many teachers have you seen teach in your school?
I’ve seen every teacher teach during my building walks and instructional walks. I’ve visited a good percentage of classrooms and teachers. However, I’ve not sat in the classroom of each teacher and immersed myself in the environment.
This is a critical leadership mistake, one that is simply not acceptable if I’m to call myself an instructional leader.
Of course the Department is missing a “big piece,” there is no commonly agreed upon curriculum. The State Ed Department boasts of an “Engage NY” website on which teachers/principals/school districts can post materials to support the Common Core, and shies away from establishing a process to build a curriculum across the state.
Is it even possible to measure teaching performance if curriculla varies from school distrct to school district, from school to school?
Are we guerillas fighting against the oppressors, the “Vs,” trying to gobble us up, or, are we educators, professionals in the heritage of John Dewey participating in a never-ending dialogue about teaching and learning?
It’s that Fringe thing.