The great state of Texas is rolling out a new teacher appraisal system. Several fellow teachers and I packed into a school cafeteria for training on the new protocols. Professional development is always boring. There are plenty of eye rubs and yawns to sprinkle the room like party confetti. This year I promised myself that my attitude would be different. That really means that I promised myself to make an effort to be present and pay attention.
This new teacher appraisal system called T-TESS, for those of you racing to the Texas Education Agency’s website to read all about it, makes me sad and embarrassed. Part of the training was to script everything that happened in a 45 minute lesson that we all watched. We were to participate as administrators do and then compare the lesson against the rubric. The authors of the rubric are so proud to announce that it is based on a growth model. They pat themselves on the back for providing pre and post conferences surrounding the lesson. The authors have been so blinded by narcissism that they failed to realize the rubric and the sample lesson are failing to address what I consider to be THE biggest problem in public education today.
Public schools employee mostly Caucasian females, me included. I try very hard to relate to all of my students, their backgrounds, and their culture. I am not perfect, and I have certainly made mistakes over the years due to ignorance. Best intentions can’t perfect all mistakes or misspoken words; it happens. I forgive myself, learn, and try again.
I think most people would expect behavior management to be the biggest problem, and perhaps it is. However, most of the roots of behavior problems are found in the soil of misunderstanding of backgrounds.
Supposedly, this year is a pilot year for T-TESS. I surmise that most of the districts in Texas are piloting the system. For me, that suggests that we are being made to feel like feedback is welcome. Without further ado – here’s my feedback:
After scripting for 20 minutes I could not take it any more. No, my hand wasn’t tired. No, I wasn’t having a hard time keeping up. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I dropped my pen. I started pacing at the back of the room. I was in shock. I felt very alone as I looked across the tops of heads. I closed my eyes and shook my head. My body temperature was starting to change.
The teacher in the video asked something like, ” Why do you think Ike compares obedience school to prison?” Ike is a dog, by the way. Here is the synopsis about the book the teacher in the video was using during her lesson from the Scholastic website:
After numerous incidents of bad behavior, Mrs. LaRue sends her dog Ike to obedience school. Ike, however, is highly insulted and sees the school as a prison. His daily letters home complain of imagined indignities and exaggerated tales of mistreatment. Readers are quickly alerted to these humorous discrepancies by the witty illustrations: Ike’s dark perceptions are in black and white, while the real world is shown in color.
Written about: Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters from Obedience School by Mark Teague
And the lesson (it is the second file) proceeded about point-of-view and something about letter writing. . . . The teacher lost me. I was thinking about how many children in that 4th grade classroom knew someone who had been to jail or prison. I was thinking about why the Caucasian female teacher with the mostly minority class did not see a problem with using a book that compared dogs to prisoners. Yes, learning about personification has it’s merits, but dammit so does knowing your audience!
I was thinking about my own experiences of visiting an incarcerated loved one. I was thinking about how exhausting it was to drive 4-5 hours one way for a two hour visit and then home again. I was thinking about the different prisons I had been to: Huntsville, Diboll, Angleton, and that other one . . . . I was thinking about the inhumane conditions that I saw. Oh wait, I’m supposed to be scripting about a teacher who wants her students to learn the art of letter writing.
I was thinking about all the letters I wrote over the years to my loved one. And I promised myself to stay in the present moment today during training. I was here. I had arrived. I was angry! I was not expecting to come face-to-face with those memories on a random Tuesday learning about T-TESS.
This is a video chosen by the state for training purposes. No one caught the problem before it was used? So, unintentional racism is being spread all across the state during similar trainings? The worst part for me is assuming that most of the teachers that have watched the video throughout Texas saw no problem with the lesson. Maybe they don’t read the news. Maybe they don’t know about the incarceration rates among minorities. Maybe they don’t care.
This is what keeps me up at night. I know about “white privilege.” I live it every day. I know that I was fortunate enough to learn the discourse of business and education at home, at an early age. I do not take it for granted. I will use it to help foster consideration and compassion to be developed for all students by all teachers.
I tried to wait patiently through the video. I had to stay on task if I was done scripting. I looked for proof that the teacher in the video had deviated. I started reading word-for-word the teacher standards. I was relieved to see that respect for student’s backgrounds, culture, and experiences were included in several places in the standards. But she wasn’t being judged against the standards per say, rather the rubric.
I flipped to the rubric and started scanning for anything that I could find as proof of a botched lesson. Her delivery no longer mattered. Her expectations were obsolete. And my search yielded disappointing results. She was not in violation because the teacher standards were loosely implied in the rubric. There was nothing specific. The world “culture” from the standards had been replaced with “social and emotional background.”
My participation in professional development leaves much to be desired. I have side conversations, try and make people laugh, and act like a detention bound student when I am bored. I wasn’t bored; I was angry. I was planning on keeping my opinions relegated to my table and my administration until I was called on by name to share with the group my thoughts. I shared the contents of this blog post. My face was red and hot. I was on the verge of tears recalling my prison-visiting days.
There was little discussion as the facilitator had to keep control of the room and the training. I did not feel defeated until the 20 minute post conference video started with the teacher’s administrator, no doubt she was a Caucasian female too. The feedback from the administrator was overwhelmingly positive. I was overwhelmed. Now I was bored, so I checked email on my phone. Someone had gone to our school’s website and found my email address and sent the following message, “You are a badass.” If badass means advocating and caring for all students, then yes, I am. If badass means trying to see all students’ points-of-view, then yes, I am. If badass means seeing all teachers’ points-of-view, then no, I am not.
If for some reason you fail to see the relevance of my point of view then please have a gander at this gem.