This is how it had to be.
90° weather permeated a musty classroom, untouched since mid-summer when custodians and school aides moved furniture away then into the center to wax the floors. My old room’s furniture found its way into this room as well. The first two days of setting up my classroom involved lifting bookshelves, setting up student desks, the teacher area, and textbook collections (because calling them “libraries” would be an insult to libraries). I wore a dark polo, jeans, and Jordans while dumping curricula older than my teaching career. Shakira and the Carters pushed me through the eight-foot wooden apparatuses in need of tender loving construction and screws. I repaired shelves and mirrors, cleaned out lockers, fixed a quick bulletin board, put up a few posters, and took inventory of the supplies I needed. I folded boxes with the contents of my old desks, dusted every piece of lumber in the place, Lysol’ed the desks, and shook the chairs to see which ones would wobble if and when my students got anxious in class.
This is my fifth classroom in five years. Each time, I’m asked to process, sort, and discard of what was left behind. Each time, I oblige because the kids need an environment where the person in charge of it looks like they care. This time was different. Last year, I walked into work with business attire. This year, I wore sunglasses and a t-shirt. Last year, I was given a room with a broken air conditioner. This year, I had an air conditioner. Last year, I had a teacher improvement plan. This year, I didn’t.
I have every intention of shedding the gripes, too. Teacher improvement plans are as anonymous as they sound, and usually just as capricious. I won’t bother you with the minutiae of every sharp Do Now / warm-up, every activity I presented, every student response, every missed opportunity for deeper questioning, every minutes of lost time due to having a broken clock in my classroom, and every moment of wit and anxiety while children and adults take furious notes with different implications. Each time, I never felt I had to prove my pedagogy, but I had to convince others that the dubious measures of evaluation from the year before weren’t a reflection of my classroom. We use an evaluative rubric that provided plenty of appropriate examples in its dimensions, and plenty of wiggle room for folks to mis- and re-interpret.
But it never tells me why students got love for me. Danielson got nothin’ on that. Or me.
Doubt stung my skin and made welts all over it, and, rather than seeking the appropriate ointment, I let it sting so I could empathize with the hundreds of others I’d watch in the news, the Internet, and the grievance offices down at my union. I had a hard time blaming the people in my building because I knew the numbers were out of their control, but I was enraged all the same.
In the time of my teacher improvement plan, I keynoted a dozen spaces, participated in panels, wrote thousands of published words, and helped inspire thousands of educators through any one of my platforms. There was a definite article – the – that I put on my name a decade ago, and it’s finally fastened to my first name wherever I’m featured. A who’s who of veritable education luminaries know and respect my work, and excerpts from my book have been used in hundreds of education classes and speeches. My work in this space as an educator and executive director of EduColor has sparked any number of people to go into teaching or teachers, especially of color, to stay.
None of this, and I mean none of this, prevented me from the disquiet of lesson plans that wouldn’t comport with the whims of what I’m supposed to look like for adults. Doing things for the culture doesn’t mean the institutions will reciprocate that energy. My lowest rating in observable dimensions end up being in “Growing Professionally.” OK, cool.
Teacher improvement plans sounds amazing, too. “We’re going to whip this teacher into shape,” they’ll say. “The teacher’s too loosey-goosey,” they’ll say. “Our test scores aren’t going up, so we gotta focus on a couple of you,” they’ll say. Even with the massive issues with using value-added measures for teacher improvement, they’ll ignore the research and stick to whatever helps them avoid the gaze of central officials. Scores of teachers listened to the word “support” and only heard “imposition.” These TIPs purport rigorous independence, but propound virtual puppeteering. How do we explain getting adults to get children to follow our movements, think as we say they should, talk like stereotypes of the bourgeoisie, and repeatedly punish those students who don’t comply? To satisfy testing companies and the paper lobby?
Why are we being asked to teach like champions, yet we keep losing?
The constant hope remains the students. There are dozens of diatribes written about the evils of corporate education reform, high-stakes standardized testing, and the learning conditions of our students. Yet, those relationships remain. The plethora of implicit and explicit ways we demonstrate to students that we sense them pushes me daily. I might look at them, but I need to put in work to see them. I might hear their rumbles, but I need patience to listen to them. Most of this immeasurable work would have looked different if I had treated teaching according to the official rubric and dimensions. Instead, I sat there organizing another teacher desk, looking out at my new classroom, and felt my extremities tingle.
Let me be “effective” on that piece of paper. I’m cool with that, too.