Thursday, September 5, 2013

Loving the bomb

My dear friend and colleague, Mr. Pop, sighed and said "I think we should stop worrying and love the bomb."

Of course, I immediately pictured my self riding a nuclear missile, cowboy hat in hand, "woo-hooing" about the fact that I was going to blown to bits soon.

This is obviously hyperbole, but I find I really do have to consciously fight the feeling that we're not all going to be "blown to bits." Now, Mr. Pop went on to say that it would benefit us all to become versed in Danielson's domains and be able to say, for example - "Little Timmy is leaving the classroom to use the bathroom every 30 minutes because he's an 8 year old who needs to be toilet trained.  Domain 1, B and C - knowing the student and setting outcomes!"

Will that work? I don't know. You can shoot the lock off the soda machine to get change and call President Muffley and try to prevent nuclear war, but you'd have to answer to the Coca-Cola Company.

Well, that's stretching the metaphor a bit.

But it is kind of sad that many of us feel like we have to be able to call out "2-D, 3-A" etc in order to prove what we do fits into this very subjective evaluation rubric. We feel like we have to love the bomb in order to survive. (This just popped into my head - the US and Finland have a "mineshaft gap!" I'm going to have to attempt Dr Strangelove as an allegory or metaphor for public education today in some parallel universe wherein i'm getting a PhD in political economy.)

Anywho...where was I? Oh yes, the bomb, Dimitri. Calling out Danielson domains in the middle of everything in order to prove I know what I'm doing. Kid needs a drink of water, water fountain is down the hall - 1D demonstration of knowledge of resources!Reflecting on teaching - 4A - reflection on don't do that.

There are some aspects of this framework  I actually am interested in, engaging the kids in learning more, better classroom management - but the thing  is - EVERYONE is interested in that. And it's going to look very different in my D75 classroom than it will in a general education setting. I have some fanstastic colleagues and I will say the paranoia about the new evaluations is helping us to think and collaborate more.

But that's because my colleagues are fantastic, and have a sense of humor. i'm afraid all this 2D, 4A stuff is real and crazy. "loving the bomb" will make me, I fear, focus less on the kids and their needs and more about not being able to pay the bills. i have already felt the quality of my practice decline a bit - a comment on previous post wrote about how getting Danielson'ed often leads to positive aspects of a lesson gettting minimized or ignored, and minor aspects worthy of a positive suggestion or two are magnified as major errors. ( AS Lewis wrote that, i'm too lazy to link today). I operate how most  students operate, lots of praise for the good, positive suggestions for the bad. And I tend to shut down when I'm feeling judged unfairly. (Ore my purity of essence is being drained..sorry, last one)

So some positives:
The principal and chapter leader at my school explained at the 1st day PD that everyone, especially higher ups in D75 are very concerned about how the new teacher evals will work. One of them told the entire staff that it is indeed true that Ms Danielson herself said she doesn't think her rubric or framework is appropriate for special ed (Good job, Charlotte - Domain 4 , A Reflecting on practice!)
they also explained that those purportedly "rare" cases where the student  scores aren't great but the teacher does well with observations would obviously be more of the norm in D75, because of the very nature of the district - and that we'd probably not get fired this year, but we'd better start adapting because we need to "love the bomb."

Hi Mom! Woo-hooo!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Hopes and Fears, Fears and Hopes...

I taught summer school, which was finished  about a week ago, and now I have about 2 and 1/2 weeks off.

I have not really been able to enjoy my vacation (and I have tried, thank you,  box o' wine)  - I;m feeling rather anxious and fearful about next year. Like it's a 2 and a 1/2 week long  Sunday night anxiety kind of thing.

My greatest supporters, like my mom Mrs Rim and husband Mr Rim are starting to question my sanity. They wonder if i'm being anxious and melodramatic because they remember me being that way when I was 19...or  my first year teaching , or after drinking a box o' wine.

I'm also starting to question my own sanity a bit - because a number of the teaching techniques I used have all of a sudden become "ineffective" or "developing" (well, we all develop, but ya know what I mean) when they were lauded about a year or so ago. See previous posts for specifics about that.

Im fearing that the Common Core, Danielson, and the new NYC evaluation system will cost me my job and livliehood.

There are a number of interesting components in each of these areas that i think I could probably learn about and adapt to my classroom with training and practice. And I am confident in saying this  may take more time in my special ed school that serves the neediest students - students with developmental disabilities so "severe" that they are still learning to trace their name at 10 years old, to give an example.

And this is what I fear, and what I have already experienced a bit the last time I was observed using the Danielson rubric...

I fear that all of this has been implemented too soon, too fast and without the proper vetting
I fear that I will be "forcefeeding" concepts to the students that are not ready for it in the name of progress and "transformative innovation  gooddisruption"
I fear that if I stand up to it, or even if I do what "they' want but "they" know I disagree with some of it then my work life will be made miserable oor I'll lose my job
I fear that no matter how hard i try, i'll never hit enough points on the rubric - or i'll never be good enough
I fear that this will happen to my colleagues too.
I fear most of all that my colleagues and I get scared enough about our own livliehood that we end up teaching these cognitively disabled children things that look good on a bulletin board ...
And that even if we do that it still wont be "good enough."

This is a real fear that i think even Mr and Mrs Rim don't get...but I'm sure most other teachers do.
So in order to preserve my sanity, here are my hopes, very specifically for a special ed teacher next year:

- I hope the teachers have collaborative meetings about teacher stuff- recommending content for units, commenting in how to enrich the "special ed curriculum" we have  (I'm being generous here, its ULS) but we should collaborate on things that mean things for the students - maybe we take 6 or 8 weeks to do a unit -
And that the people who are able to make judgement calls about that do so
- I hope that , recognizing how many systems we have in place for data tracking and seeing as the students we serve need lots of time, we can tone it down a lot and just do something tried and true every 6 months ...maybe 4 if you are really pressured
-I hope that the administrators- who are between a rock and a hard place, decide to stand up and fight for their staff and what they know is the right thing for the students. I appreciate that their jobs are on the line too, but I think they will find a greater deal of support and less tension even if they give lip service to their staff. Also, they have a union too. I hope they use that.
-I also hope that I can survive this for a bit while keeping my job, and when the pendulum swings and I can get on with it, that the next classes of kids learn.
-And I also hope the next fad in education is listening to teachers. Like Finland

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

I got Danielson'ed!

It happened. 

I got Danielson'ed. By that I mean an observation / evaluation went, in many ways, the way teachers fear they can.

You may have read that one post  I wrote about a dud observation I had. I wrote about how there were a number of things I could have done better, and also a number of things that I felt the observer didn't notice that I thought went well, and my surprise about that.  In the post after that , I wrote about writing my summer unit plans and being concerned about them being written the "right way." where my professional judgement calls digress from that, and how it was all going to turn out.

Some of those worries were justified. 

The felt the unit / lesson plans I developed were good. To be specific, there is a summer theme, and I chose  books relating to that theme and as a culminating project, students would create their own booklets based on them. In addition we used words from the book to reinforce sight word recognition, and decoding. And I also know its really important for my  cognitively disabled students to continue to review concepts and drill - the alphabet, the sounds, etc in order to be able to access their learning in a variety of areas.

So I wrote all of that in the lesson plan. Well, actually it was a unit plan.

The observer did not read it.

She did glance through it - and did note that it was formatted and structured decently in the feedback. However in the feedback it was also noted that the sight word work we were working on that day was disconnected from the summer theme, which made me hurrumph a bit, because I feel like if she had read the lesson plan - which listed  the sight words in the book that were the targets for the unit, along with the daily practice i feel is so important for the students - she would have understood better. 

Also, she stayed for about 20 minutes, and entered about 10 minutes into the period. I also feel like if she had been able to see the beginning of the lesson, she would have seen the class read through the pages of the book and point out the sight words - and would have understood better.

So, I was rated "developing" in some areas that I felt were in fact effective, and may have reflected that if the observer was able to read through the lesson plan, stay for the whole period, and ya know...just ask me. 

It felt sort of unfair. Not because I'm not "developing"  in some areas (and my superteacher mommy Mrs Rim correctly pointed out that all teachers are always developing, if you wanna look at it that way). But if my intent and purpose and professional  judgements are not discussed or misconstrued by an observer who has not read a plan, then how can I improve? 

I know these things are a snapshot, and I think the observer does, too. But you can't really cram all zillion domains into 20 minutes or so.  To be fair, I think these Danielson evaluations are a weird panacea to the nonexisitent "education is in crisis because teachers are bad" rhetoric that's  bouncing around. Observers and administrators are in a pickle, too. That goes double for those of us that work with special ed students...(that's another post altogether). 

What to do about it?...  The culture of my school is such that I feel like having a conversation with someone about this would be to put myself too much on the radar, I'd be a complainer - and also, it's summer. I'm also not especially confident that one person would be listened to...

I'm getting ahead of myself here, but I think the anxiety of this kind of stuff is very much in the minds of teachers as this new evaluation thing goes forward. What usually worked and got great feedback in years past is suddenly wrong - and most of it I think is because the Danielson rubric is mystifyingly specific and vague.. and that goes double for applying it to the most challenging special ed populations. 

I seriously worry that I'll get some sort of "developing" rating 2 years in a row and end up in fear for my job and bread and butter.  I've been teaching for 6 years and have had a number of years of experience with people with developmental disabilities before that - I'm almost 40. This is a real source of anxiety for many, more experienced, and better teachers than I. 

I'm all for working on the stuff that is "me," but I really don't like it when "you" make me feel wrong.

Especially if you don't ask me. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Are lesson plans sacrosanct?

I'm teaching summer school this year, all of my students need a 12 month program. I spent some time today writing out some plans and really started to freak out. The  heart beating fast, sweaty palms, "I'm going to get fired" freak out.

I have heard and read that under the new Danielson - heavy evaluation system for NYC teachers that the written lesson plans will be subject to just as much scrutiny as the teaching / lesson., etc and that makes me nervous.

I';m going to use an old essay cliche here, sorry. In the dictionary sacrosanct is defined as sacred, inviolable; regarded as above and beyond interference, criticism.  Now nothing in heaven and earth is sacrosanct, Horatio - but most teachers worth their salt plan their work and work their plan and write it down.

I have written some horribly misspelled nonsensical looking, crappy  lesson plans that made sense for me and the paraprofessionals I work with and had incredibly successful lessons.

I have written brilliant lesson plans on nice paper with bullet points and that made sense for me and the paras and they have been duds.

I have written crappy lesson plans that observers like and understand.

I have written great lesson plans that observers  don't like and don't understand.

And every combination in between. That's the job, that's what we do. Use tried and true stuff - making adjustments along the way.  Use new stuff -  it's not always going to work the first time,  but you try until you can see if it becomes "true."

What has never happened to me is that I had a badly written / planned plan but went well with the kids and been evaluated in a negative manner because of that.  I'm worried about that now.

My best lesson plans are written for the students and adults in the room. Often the "why " or "how" of it all for an observer  is explained in a conference. Sometimes it takes that.

Not to bore you, but my kids learn best in small groups and in "center" type activities. They need practice and repetition and routine. What works best is doing center type activities that last 10 minutes  or so each and one of the centers is ALWAYS the "daily practice" - number / letter recognition etc. Then I do another center where they practice that in context of the theme or unit, because accessing learning and transferring and such. And a 3rd with writing or problem solving.... (I got it, I really do.)

But I freaked out today, because I feel like if it;s not written perfectly, one tiny thing doesn't connect, there is no "Stand and Deliver" moment with swelling tear jerking movements over the credits... or if someone doesn't get what I'm trying to do...then I will have done something "wrong."

It used to be that lesson plans were for the students and adults in the room, and perhaps the principal or AP in order to support the teacher best. Almost sacrosanct. If the lesson worked, then who cares if it's written in a certain way? If it didn't, maybe writing it out better will help next time. Again, that's the job, that's what we do. Not beyond reproach or criticism, but certainly not WRONG.

Now it seems lesson plans are for some other entity entirely. Dogma and sacrosanctity (sp?) for the sake of proving something to someone somewhere. I'm about to be an educational atheist - this guilt about perceived wrongdoing is worse than my residual Catholic guilt.

In the comments, I'd love to hear how you all feel about the sacrosanctity of lesson plans.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Wherein the author completely choked during her observation....

Oh, hi!

So it's been a tough year for me. Lots of difficulties in the first months of school with challenging student behaviors, and after I did a lot of hard work to sort that out, I found that the relentless drive for data and all that implies to be kind of soul crushing. So soul crushing, in fact, that my formal observation  in May did not go very well. At all.

You might be asking yourself now why my formal observation was in May. I dunno either. My guess is that the administration at my D75 school had a difficult time getting to it because of the aforementioned soul crushing relentless data. They have a lot of work to to do, too.

So, the administrators at the school I work at usually don't announce or make appointments to do formal observations - which they are "allowed" to do, I'm told. And they really do want to see an average lesson, and that's all fine and good. Now, because I work with kids who have severe cognitive disabilities, we need to do a lot of practice and repeating of tasks, and have a pretty structured routine. I handle that by making 4 or 5 general lesson plans for the month and vary the task but not necessarily the skill in order to help the students transfer and access their learning in different "modalities."  And I leave some stuff open, and have a couple of quick - go to things just in case.

Usually that works, and when it was announced that the teachers would be observed sometime the first week of February, I enhanced the plans more. And I utilized the Unique Learning Systems "curriculum" because, well... I have to. But still used the month format because it worked for me, the paras, the kids and lesson plans are sort of sacrosanct.

So I was not observed that week, nor was I for the next 9 or 10 weeks. I kept my regular plans, yet did not enhance them. So, we'll forward to a rainy Thursday in mid May wherein the author oversleeps because it's so dark, has to clean up a cat hairball and can't find the keys, then misses the bus by a second  and since its raining the next bus is late and when I get to school 3 minutes late the kids are cranky and off - well, we've all had those days, haven't we?

So imagine my dismay when I hear that the principal is there to do observations and I got about 10 minutes notice. Already anxious and flustered, I go to do the normal activity ...and it's a dud. And I realize this within the first few minutes and just mind was a blank and I didn't / wasn't able to regroup. Is it here that I should mention that I subsequently learned my chills and malaise and horrifying cough was attributed to a raging case of bronchitis a few days later?

It did not go well. And I own what I own about that: my lesson was wanting in a number of ways, and I literally (bronchial cough) and figuratively choked. It did not help that the observer was touching her iPad the entire time and i was PISSED that she was Danilesoning me. NOT allowed this year.

So I get the feedback and it's all Danielson rubric-y. Now, i own what I own about that dud lesson. But I found some of the other things, frankly shocking. That I don't have a clear behavior plan for the class - I've got color coded rules and a big deal sticker chart and made a big thing about asking kids about their reinforcers at the end of class - but seriously, the observer was furiously punching her iPad at the time. That hit home, especially. This observer has always assigned student teachers to me because, she says, my classroom management skills are good and are what first year teachers really need to know. . So for her to rate that component "developing" was hard for me - and even more perplexing was that of the few "effective" sub-domains was "students are well behaved and take pride in their work." As disjointed as my lesson was that day, so was the evaluation of it.

I feel like I have always done a good job working with students with developmental disabilities, and I've enjoyed a decent reputation among my colleagues and administrators the last few years. It's my 6th year teaching, and i'm in my late 30s - there are many things I need to and would like to learn - but I'm wondering more and more if the people who are evaluating me and my kids even know what they're looking for.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Yes, we are also over assessing and over tracking the neediest special ed students. Now I need someone better at math to prove it.

I spent most of my post-storm day at work without students getting ahead with lessons and student portfolios and that kind of thing, and in the middle of it all, I got kind of paranoid and felt I had to justify some instructional decisions which led me to create and solve a couple of math problems - perfect for the week of Halloween since math is a bit scary to me.

Some background:
In our school, we have an expensive new copier that does all kinds of great stuff like color copies, but is not made for endurance and durability. Since our site works exclusively with 6 alternate assessment classes, we use a ciriculum that is on-line and is heavy on the cutting and pasting since a lot of  the students can't write.
So, a lot of copying. Also, we didn't have regular letter sized paper for a month or so. SO the copier jammed so much that it was deemed from ON HIGH that only the secretary can make copies, submit them in advance, please. (Our secretary is a lovely hard working woman who literally RUNS up and down the hallways every day to get the other things she needs to do done, it's unfair)

Then we ran out of toner, likely due to some backlog in the copying due to the aforementioned problems.And are low on paper. So now our unit coordinator has to look over the copies we would like to make and has veto power. Clearly we're making too many copies, and it's getting to be expensive and a hassle....


In our school we do student portfolios that track IEP goal progress, which is fine and good. Classroom teachers must create 2 reading, 2 writing, and 2 math goals per student on IEPS and track them in a portfolio with evidence, and work products are the STRONGLY PREFERRED  method. Oh, and we also have to track 2 other IEP goals in this portfolio - we create our own, or track something from, say, counseling or OT/ PT. That's 8 IEP goals each I have to gather evidence for a month.

These providers, along with the cluster teachers do their own portfolios of each student, so I don't get the point of that, but am beyond pointing out the redundancy. But I digress.

So I did these math problems:
12 kids x  goals each to track + 8 pieces of homework/ week x 12 kids:
Per month it's 96  for classwork + 384 homework = 480.

and really the 96 is supposed to be more, since we're just supposed to be taking samples of classwork - and I gotta make pictures and things for the kids who can't write to cut and paste, so we're looking at a ream a month, if not more. I can  only make a few things double sided, what with all the things that need cutting and gluing.

That's a fine how - do- you- do, huh?

Then think about their science/art/speech/OT/PT/ gym portfolios

I shiver to think about how much more paper the NYS Alternate Assessment will eat up, and then those citywide task "bundles" which AA students are not exempt from. 

Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees. Or rather, not seeing either as they'll all be in files in public schools.

And then add in the special ed social/ emotional factor - none of these kids can sit through doing a worksheet independently, or even sit for more than a minute or two without blood, sweat, tears, flying furniture, eating their work, etc. 

I haven't even mentioned, nor thought about til this very moment, the time consuming assessments I'm required to do. Two benchmarking kind of things that take about hour each, (I'm lowballing it) twice a year (12 kids x 2 hours x twice a year = 48) and a pre and post unit test that our curriculum requires every month (15 minutes per student x 12 =180 minutes twice a month is 360 minutes...6 hours/ month)

Is it even mathematically possible to get all this done? 

Can someone out there crunch numbers for me?

Take into account the time assessing/ benchmarking above. If I spend 5 minutes with each student working on their piece of evidence for their portfolio (96 a month) how much time is that?
Compare that to how much time I have in class. School is from 8:20 to 3:10. We have 7 periods that are 50 minutes long, with 5 minutes in between. 1 period is taken up with an intructional breakfast (95% free / reduced meals) and the kids do need that amount of time to eat, get settled, etc. There's a lunch period. I have one prep period and one admin period a day - let;s say I use my admin period to do this work, but take the prep period to, well prep.

Also, cost of paper/ toner/ secretary's time/ unit coordinator's time reviewing and vetoing copies?

Monday, August 27, 2012

What I have to do vs what I want to do

I work in a special ed district, D75, in NYC that encompasses all 5 boroughs, that serves the neediest students.  There are a number of stand alone buildings and a lot of off-sites - a floor here or there in a community school that are co-located. (Which gets just as weird as charter / public school co-locations, I'm sure) This school year, my site is moving to brand new campus: I'm told it's a nice building, Smartboards in every room, etc. So I suspect at least my classroom will have at least a fresh coat of paint. Tomorrow, the teachers and unit coodinator will meet there to check out the place and start unpacking. I got an email today asking for a brief meeting with everyone in order to discuss goals for the following year.

This is the time of year that I'm most idealistic and gung ho - and it usually lasts until I arrive for the first - day -of- school - for - teachers PD and receive a laundry list of ridiculous hair-splitting tasks. Then I lose my enthusiasm. But, I'll save that for another post.

Now that I've been at this for 6 years, my idealism and gung-ho edness has become decidedly less idealistc and gung - ho. The gap between what I want to do / feel is best for the students and what I have to do to make it look like the children "is learning" is becoming much wider. All over the country, this disconnect is infuriating teachers - and I think that us special ed teachers are feeling it the most. In particular, those that teach the students who have the most severe cognitive limitations.

But in the spirit of a new year, and for posterity's sake, here is the best balance between what I have to do and how I'm going to reconcile that with what I believe is best for the students

Have to: Use the language of common core in student IEPs at grade level, in 2 reading, 2 writing, and 2 math standards
Will do: Utilize the option to create short term objectives to create more developmentally appropriate goals that will also teach living skills
Example: Most of the students I teach can't count very well, but I am supposed to teach fractions. I will create real world examples of fraction use: measuring while cooking, 4 quarters make up a dollar, etc 

Have to:  Document progress in common core standards in student portfolios
Will do: Document the level of independence a student achieves within that goal - reassess the goal as needed
Example: Johnny counts out that 4 quarters are in a dollar with full assistance, a little help,or independently. If he can do the task independently within a few months, or it doesn't seem like he's getting it, then the goal will be re-assessed

Have to: Document student progress is 2 other optional areas other than the 6 discusssed above for each student
Will do: Optional area #1 will be a "reading" log. Optional area #2 will be a target behavior log
Example:  Since most of the students are non readers, the log will incorporate how long a student can, say, attend  to a read aloud in a small/ large group, if they can point to targeted sight words, if they looked at it with a friend,. did they discuss and comprehend the pictures? Students can chart the books they've "read" and  get a prize for every 10 or so. This will, I believe, get them excited about and interested in books and give me ideas about what their strengths and needs are. 

Have to:  Not teach spelling or multiplication or any of that stuff by memorization or rote
Will do: Just do it anyway.  The students I teach really need to sing the alphabet and practice counting by rote and all that stuff. . I will be sure that I note on IEPs that students need frequent opportunities for repetition and practice. Keep a number of my textbooks from grad school around to back me up on that.
Example: "Hi Mister or Miss Quality Reviewer - if you refer to the IEP you will see that the student benefits from frequent opportunities for repetition and practice, if you look at this book...." 

Have to:  Make an aesthically pleasing classroom that looks cute and teacher-y and is functional -
Will do: Put books in bins on the bookshelves, hang some posters, also be sure to write in IEPS which students benefit from an environment with few visual and auditory distractions. 
Example: Most of my students benefit from a place that has few visual and auditory distractions - I write that in most IEPS. 

Have to: Make sure anything and everything looks good enough for "visitors" to not "question" (I'm quoting my administrators from the last Quality Review)
Will do: Make sure anything and everything is user friendly for the students and adults that are in the classroom daily. Be ready to explain those decisions.  Put them in the IEPs - Offer opportunities for large, small group activities, write the rules of those  and display them in the classroom so a "visitor" who might ask a "question" will see that it does happen
Example: Poster titled, "Group Activity Rules" with stuff like "keep hands feet to yourself" on it. 

Any other ideas out there?