Yesterday, I had an interesting conversation with my brother Ralf, and a couple of burgeoning entrepreneurs about the teaching profession. They called it the most important profession there is, and one of their sisters was a public school teacher in Trenton. We laughed as the one guy told us about how his sister loved the more seemingly intimidating situations in Newark and Trenton, preferring the more difficult classes. Asked how she handled all that, he said that she builds a trust culture with them, to the point where she could leave her purse out and the kids watch her stuff for her. Everyone but me was amazed you could do that.
As the conversation progressed, the same guy said, “Really, we need more teachers who actually give a fuck about the kids.” We laughed. I replied, “Fortunately for me, I’ve given whole buckets of fucks throughout my teaching career.” Wholly inappropriate for an education discussion, totally appropriate for a midday conversation between a bunch of guys.
Nonetheless, it got me to thinking: Is my teaching effectiveness dependent on how much I care about what I do, and the students in front of me?
My colleague James Boutin shared this post by Ariel Sacks which questions the validity of whether good teaching always lead to good test scores. I responded to James with a quick, “No.” Maybe I should have slowed down a bit. After all, I took a look at my students’ test scores that came out last week, and much to my chagrin, most of the class either stayed on the same level, or dropped a few points lower than I assumed. One in particular dropped a whole math level. While a couple of students jumped to a level 3 from a mid-level 2, I seriously couldn’t wrap my head around why so many kids hadn’t done as well on the test.
Could it have been the field test questions in the mix that threw them off? Could it have been my set of absences (most of them due to work-related professional development)? Was it that I didn’t get around to them quickly enough? Was I too helpful? Could I have cared more? Am I the best teacher they could have hard in this case?
It’s the most difficult question to ask anyone who counts how much they care in buckets and buckets. The passion to teach kids, and to get better at the craft, has driven me for most of my teaching career, and the best evidence I have of their learning comes from their work in class, their upgraded discussions, and … their own testimonials. Times like these, when I’ve seen the numbers dip some, would make anyone with lesser passion just teach right to the test, teacher-directed with no apologies.
Lest a two-hour snapshot determine my fate.
With so many of us going through this type of reflection this summer, I do my best to detach myself from test scores because they don’t constitute the majority of my being as a teacher or a man. There’s no way I don’t wake up every morning and think to myself if I could have given one more bucket.
Jose, who tries to explain the more human wedges of teacher reflection here …