My Report Card, 08-09

So where do we get off, really, thinking that we are beyond the accountability measures we impose on our own kids? Seriously. If they get a quarterly review, then that’s the least we can ask of ourselves.

I’m also tired of waiting for my employers to walk in here– be that a supervisor, a principal, a superintendent, or a parent– and ask me questions about my practice that I am unprepared to answer because my implementation is generally solid, but my documentation stinks. Bill Ferriter talks a bit about the disconnect between his own sense of accountability and that of his district’s here.

I want a TEACHER REPORT CARD. Something I can pull out next year and say, with confidence, “This is a snapshot of me as a professional at this moment.” And since this thing does not exist, as my last major thinking for the 07-08 year, I’m going to draft my own.

Here’s my top ten items, in I’m-just-blathering-order. And I’m going all out here. The idea is to make things as sexy as possible at first, and cut them down to manageable size later.

1) Observations, one per quarter in my class. My two scheduled observations next year count– and then I’ll go two more. Two additional observations, I undertake of other classrooms. One should be out of district.

2) Professional Development. New York State requires me to complete 175 hours of this every five years. The district’s supposed to keep a record of this for me, but it’s probably a good idea to keep a tally of this myself.

2a) Membership. Somewhere. (Well, maybe not here.) Unions don’t count. NCTE has served me quite well. ASCD rocks too (and not just because they employed me this year). AERA is good for hard-core geekiness.

3) Reading. A periodical subscription or at least one professional book per year. Inspired by Slate Magazine, in 08-09 I’m contemplating blogging the Handbook for Adolescent Psychology. Yeah, yeah, I’m a nutjob. Leave it in the comments.

3) An independent evaluation of the quality of my written Plans. Not the daily attack, the six-box-to-a-three-inch-line that couldn’t be deciphered by a Navaho windtalker, but something that shows in black and white these four things (heavily influenced by The Science and Art of Teaching, Robert Marzano): a) one or two overarching academic goals per unit, grounded in the power state standards, b) differentiation up and down, c) an assessment, formative or summative, tied directly to every goal, d) a plan for what the heck I do for every goal not achieved the first time around.

3a) Reflection on those plans. Again, in writing. Yes, this worked. No, this stunk. What I will keep, what I will change.

Someone of note should be an independent reviewer for 3 and 3a. Since theoretically we’ll be filling this report card out four times, it could be a rotation through my principal, a mentor teacher, the Literacy Coach for our building, and the English director for the district.

4) Hard evidence of learning. I should be collecting this, in a systematic manner, for every unit I undertake. For the report card, though, I think this ideally should involve three small snapshots:an academically talented kid, a middle of the road kid, and a kid who struggles. What would the snapshots be? It could be a quiz taken a few times, a packet of revisions to an essay, a hard data growth chart on 10 minute weekly homework identifying parts of speech, running reading records. Lots of possibilities.

5) Collaboration. Participation yearly in at least one major academic-based project between me and other teachers in the building/on the grade level. I’ve been batting around the idea of a poetry slam run simultaneously with a teacher in the other middle school in our district. Stay tuned.

6) Autonomy. Deliberately vague, for the moment, while I continue to experiment with autonomy in the classroom. But I want to be able to show how I involve kids in at least one instance of substantive investment, direction, and evaluation of their own learning. I think one of the best and simplest ways to do this is some kind of quarterly course evaluation from the kids, with tallied ratings. Working on what questions I might ask.

6a) Care and Feeding. How I make a concerted, documentable effort to honor a child as an individual, celebrating her successes and supporting her in her challenges.

7) Evidence of supporting literacy as a citizen. Volunteering at another school. Helping out at the public library. Keeping up the blog. Writing and publishing on education. You get the idea.

8 ) Home involvement. At base, this would be a detailed log of regular phone calls, emails, and conferences. At best?…well, I continue to attempt to convince my team that we should do regular home visits with our neediest kids. In between could be any number of things.

9) Getting stuff. By this I mean acquiring bit by bit, by grants, organized events, slyly worded and well timed budget requests, garage sales or begging, the items on the wish list that every teacher keeps somewhere in their head. In mine is two more laptops for editing, about 2000 book titles for a decent classroom library, and a hot chocolate machine. But I’ll be happy with the dozen or so subscriptions to kid-friendly magazines for my room next year, if that goes through.

10) And the usual vanilla icing: showing up to meetings on time, turning papers back within a week, returning messages within 24 hours, fulfilling my extraneous administrative duties in an organized and timely fashion, blah blah blah, and not allowing my desperately fidgety kids to run a race in the sunshine on the front lawn directly after their torturous two hour Social Studies test block, in full view of about eight classrooms. Oh, sorry– that was three days ago. Oops.

So what am I missing? Tear it up, people.

UPDATE: I was going to put this in another post, but decided against beating a dead horse, although the question is worth addressing: how would I rank these ten items? I think I’d stick to something a little more graphically oriented, like concentric circles. Plans, Reflection, Evidence, Autonomy, and Home Involvement seem to me to be the solid heart, something which then Observations, Reading, and Professional Development/Membership nurture and inform.  Stuff and Collaboration can be more readily expected of teachers with a little more experience, while Vanilla Icing, like spelling and punctuation in writing, should be emphasized in all things, yet unto itself is the least important aspect of the ten– certainly not the make-and-break of tenure that it can be.

18 thoughts on “My Report Card, 08-09

  1. Tear it up? How about stealing it? Package it up in a pretty bow and hand it out to all my teachers AND use it myself? Thanks:)

  2. Missing, Di?

    I don’t think you’re missing a thing. In fact, I’d venture to say that you’ll kill yourself just trying to keep up with the tasks that you’ve listed!

    What’s funny to me is that the Vanilla Icing is all that your district probably evaluates you on, right? As long as the kids are quiet and you sign in on the morning sign in sheet, you’ll probably earn “Above Average” ratings on the ol’ evaluation and get your union-mandated pay raise.

    But if you’re really looking to add to the list, why don’t you consider getting involved in some heavy duty policy advocacy stuff at the district level.

    I’d love to see you at school board meetings every month, making your voice heard. Maybe consider embracing the backwards board member that believes teachers are best seen, not heard. Take him out for coffee every now and again. Fill his ears with brilliance.

    I think policy advocacy is one of those things that classroom teachers tend to overlook because it seems intimidating to us. Besides, half the time, we don’t know where to begin.

    But in reality, policy advocacy is nothing more than developing relationships with the right people. Becoming the “go to” guy or gal for those who hold formal organizational power is the lever that we can use to drive change from the classroom.

    Whaddya’ think? Are you going to add it to your list?

    If you did, would you remove something that already exists?

    I’d be interested in seeing you rank your choices in order from the most pressing to the least pressing—-and then from most professionally rewarding to the least professionally rewarding.

    Rock on,

  3. “Above Average”

    I wish we got those on our evaluations. Our categories are basically: “Okay”, “Needs Work”, and “Sucks Horribly”.

    The big ones I’m going after this year are Observations, Plans, and Collaboration. The others are good too, just off of my personal radar for next year.

    The one thing I’ve added that’s not here is to start Advocating for policy changes at the school. The trick is going to be doing it effectively, rather than just adding to the noise that’s already there.

  4. Dina,

    I’ll agree with Bill here in that there is very little missing. What you are attempting is much more than ambitious, and absolutely inspiring. What we usually tell our teachers is to focus on one or two areas of growth per summer and school year; break it down one part at a time, evaluate, then re-assess in June.

    Your list intrigues me for other reasons. Being a an “employer,” of sorts, I’d like to set some goals up for myself next year. Some of the points you make, like frequency of observations, reflection on plans, among other things, and “getting stuff” for my staff all resonate with me in a meaningful way.

    How can I support teachers in their classrooms and their professional growth? I think the first step is to get back to where they are coming from: the classroom. Administrators who do not spend time in classrooms risk losing touch with the pulse of students and the meaning of why we began our careers in the first place. I miss the classroom, and I am going back in this new capacity.

    Thanks Dina!

  5. I just wanted to thank you for your blog this year! I just finished my first year of teaching. I’m inspired by teachers like you who continue to push themselves to be better and better every year (as opposed to some veteran teachers I see around me who do not), it makes me think that teaching could really be something I could do for a long time. Thanks!

  6. I know you’re probably doing this on a daily basis, contemplating all that your students say, but do you have any formal student evaluations? I’m not sure if they work at younger ages (or any age)…does it make sense to ask the students what they like/don’t like about the class?

  7. WOW!! As a former administrator in an elementary school I would have loved to have had you on the team. However, I am afraid that there are many administrators out there who do not know what to look for when they enter the classroom except the Vanilla Iciing, as stated in another comment. How sad is that? Administrative training is sadly lacking in many districts. Being a well read administrators is not a priority because of the demands on the administration. It must be a personal commitment on the part of the administrator to be better at serving their teachers in a way that you describe.
    I supervise student teachers now and was encouraged by the new teachers comments. I will steer my student teachers toward this website next year.
    You go girl… are an inspiration.

  8. I think you provide an excellent framework for evaluating teachers. I believe teachers should be doing everything on that list. At the same time, I think expecting new teachers (first and second year) to do everything on that list is a recipe for burn out. Also I think brand new teachers may have some different goals/skills that they need to work on.

  9. @all: I am ridiculously humbled by the nice things people are saying here. I mean, I hope you all know that I am nowhere near accomplishing these top ten consistently, and don’t mean to imply anything of the sort. This list is, as Pat says, more than ambitious. (Would someone just call it out as insane, please?)

    I just mean to try and start to lay out something responsible, multi-faceted, and concrete in response to what I increasingly feel *is* a true lack of accountability in teaching. (The only problem being, of course, that our current federal policies pin our accountability on all the wrong things.)

    Anyway. Some specific responses:

    @Kim: well, heck– differentiating! 😉 I’m right in your corner. Those first three years in the classroom should be about nothing but basics. I think much of the list could apply, but not necessarily all.

    @Lynn and Pat: I hadn’t thought about this list as a means for expanding the nurturing of teachers as a supervisor, but upon reading your comments I see it. Let’s take the simplest as an example: publicizing, paying for, and discussing in common a faculty membership in NCTE. Currently I pay my $90 out of pocket for membership and know of only one other member in the district (that can’t be right…I hope.) But you see my point. If my admin made it a point to support us all financially in membership, to encourage attending the conferences together, to present and publish with NCTE, to be editors and blog leaders– what an impact even that small step would make.

    @Mr K: You have three categories?? You have categories??!…

    @Bill: Advocacy. I like it. Buried, I think, in #7, which could be tweaked and brought to the surface as “acting as citizen teacher.” My smirky sense of irony, however, has me wondering about a category of supervisory evaluation which may get me in trouble with my supervisors. 😉

    More in my next post on this, which I didn’t intend to write but now feel I have to…

  10. I enjoyed reading your “Teacher Report Card” I would expand on # 3 and #7. We need to read and stay current on developments within our specific areas and with political developments as well. We should also be blogging and networking with other professionals. Last summer I took an on line course–I enjoyed the course but one thing I really liked was a forum that the instructor set-up called–“What are you reading” I got quite a reading list form that forum.
    I had the honor of supervising a student teacher this Spring. I asked her to give me feed back on what she liked and didn’t like about the experience. One of the things that she liked was reading the various blogs that I showed her. She said that she gleaned a lot of valuable info but most of all, it made her feel like a professional. She elaborated by saying that for the most part, she felt like a student and that I was just another teacher. By reading the blogs and discussing them with me she started to feel like a professional and that for the first time—-she saw teaching as a profession. ALARMING right?
    On another note, I firmly believe that we as teachers need to be involved with our profession. I liked Bill’s suggestion that we need to be involved in the policy end of our profession. Policy is a very nebulous thing and teachers shy away from it. I think about the number of times a good idea was thwarted because the policy was unknown or unclear. Did anyone check it? Did anyone know where to check?

  11. ok, the list is insane. but probably the good kind.

    actually, what is insane would be trying to implement a system that does half of what you want to do here. the tricky parts about teacher appraisals that are authentic and meaningful, like this one, is that it requires so many different pieces to work smoothly together.

    so, good luck getting any love for reviewing your plans & reflections, as that requires someone else to go way out of their zone of responsibility to help you out.

    oh and one more addition…”get sleep”.

    (realizing this may sound more than a bit snarky so here’s a postscript to say that your goals, while insane, are also awesome. i bet if i wrote a similar reflection i would have an equally lengthy list of goals!)

  12. @Fred: Agreed. I would consider it a district from heaven that made supporting meaningful networking– not even necessarily formal collaboration– a priority. As it is, while I am blessed with some amazing colleagues and overall district support, my richest source of professional community outside my little world/building this year has been the blog, without question.

    @JG: I got you. And yes, in order for the plan review to work (which unfortunately I’ve now identified as foundational to almost everything else on the list), it would have to be someone willing, in power, and in house. I am very lucky to have admin who I think *would* be willing, but I know keenly that others may not be. Where do you go then? Maybe the people you trust in the building. Maybe a professor you loved. Maybe an NBPTS-certified bud. Maybe your blog. 😉

  13. This is a perfect echo-chamber post. What I mean is, it’s no shock that those people posting comments agree; they’d slather it all over themselves like sun tan lotion.

    Aren’t we the group that invites criticism? evaluation? observation?

    The problem here lies in the fact that there are not enough of “us” in every school (sorry for the broad-based generalization).

    Yes, I’d post this by the copier. Yes, I’d hold myself to these notions. But no, the majority of educators that I know just want the copier to auto-staple.

    A job well done. That’s what they would say.

  14. I loved your list and all the comments as well! I kept thinking of all those mentioned in the last comment, who want the stabler to work. I can hear them groaning about more to do. Then I start to think that maybe those of us who think of teaching as a true profession could start a club and work on our own report cards with each other. (It would be a small group at first, in each building) Maybe those time clock punchers would begin to work elsewhere and this would begin to be the respected (and well compensated) profession it should be.

  15. I think it is a misconception that the majority of educators do not care for improving their craft. Pointing fingers at “the lazy teacher” or insisting that it is the instruction that is the fault for school woes distracts from honestly assesing education as we practice it.

    As colleagues and educators, we need to encourage each other and focus on how our strengths can best fit together to help our kids. That process starts by recognizing that all participants, including the students, have their unique, essential strengths.

    Sometimes, the definition of what is “good education” becomes so narrow that we forget that
    we might not recognize aspects of another colleague’s teaching that work with certain kids. Quick analyses of a practice therefore may not yield a true understanding of the impact of that methodology.

    I am not arguing that certain people are not a disgrace to the profession, only that there are more amazing people than is given credit. Let’s start giving credit.

  16. It is admirable to see teachers who have such insight and drive to better what is going on around them. I am hearing from my children’s teachers more about “what the district mandates” than their true opinions of what needs to be done and changed. I am truly concerned about the district we are since due to parent complaints they have “mandated” that teachers can send home next to no homework. How prepared are they going to be to compete with students in other districs when it comes to SAT/other scores? How will they stack up when they are competing for scholarships and colleges? My son used to come home with 1-2 hours of homework. Now it barely lasts for 15 minutes. Am I wrong here? He loves school this year (5th grade). He says this year is “easy”. My son has ADD and we struggle through homework at the end of the day but I can tell already his advancing has slowed to a snail’s pace. Any comments from your side on this?

  17. hi!
    i am about to start student teaching and i just wanted to let you know that i really enjoyed your blog. as has been said, it IS inspirational. thanks.

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