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.