In a post from SXSWEdu, I talked about mountain-top experiences … and coming down from the mountain-tops to the valleys below. Monday was a “valley day!” As I walked into the teachers’ lounge, Ms. X and Ms. X were there. “When are grades due for progress reports?” asked one Ms. X nervously. When I told her (“Monday at noon”), she laughed bitterly and said “Like that will happen! They’re gonna get what they’re gonna get!”
Numbers … and data. True, partly true, outdated?
Then she started fretting about when “They” (one of the school’s two (!) administrators) might do another formal observation of her class. “They have been to see me so many times this year!” she fussed, “and it’s not like I’m going to change what I’m doing!” I asked if, perhaps, her teaching certificate is up for renewal … and since it is, additional observations are required. But Ms. X wy didn’t care about policies, procedures, or Powers That Be. She did care, quite a bit, about copies of “her” study guide, a lengthy document she was printing. “But you can’t argue with success,” she said, perhaps to convince herself, referring (of course) to her students’ standardized test scores.
Other Ms. X was quietly fretting about Getting Observed by Those Administrators, too. So was Mr. Y, at lunch, when an observation “didn’t go so well” because one of his students, “was herself,” and two others tried to copy each other’s answers on (of course!) the study guide, and several came in late., I guess he feared they “made him look bad” as my former colleague used to say.
Principals observe teachers – and teachers observe each other – for many reasons. To get a sense of what’s really going on in the school, to comply with policies and procedures, to generate numbers – data – for various purposes. As Laura noted yesterday,
I’d feel a lot more confident if we shifted out discussion to FEEDBACK instead of just data. Data is infinite and has the dangerous potential to be meaningless (it’s data what temperature it is in the room, the color of each student’s socks etc.) – but if we talk about the data we need to gather to give useful feedback to the students, what we want the feedback to convey, well, that might lead to a more reasonable sense of just what data we want/need.
It was the day my students should have been ready to present Minor Assessment #1 — a story they’d created, with supporting explanations about animal fables they’d consulted and aspects of Roman culture they’d incorporated. Three groups (out of eight) were ready in the first class, and their products were uniformly excellent. Three or four others were almost ready, after various illnesses and the special events that shortened classes last week. We had a good time reading the last Fabula Longa in Lectio XIX, in which (for some unspecified reason) Valerius, the patronus, spends a lot of money and effort on a dies lustricus ceremony for the newborn son of his cliens Lollius. Then we began re-reading the Lectio XIX stories, looking for evidence of some Virtutes Romanae in the thoughts, words, actions, and feelings of major characters. Data and feedback? Well, X, Y, and O were distracted, but they eventually managed themselves … and X came later to apologize; she’d had a terrible weekend and was in physical pain. Data and feedback strengthened our joyful community!
In the second-period class, no one was ready to present. Several groups were close, but no one was ready. They’d lost more class time last week, and they work more slowly, and they struggle to manage themselves. I could feel tension as they came in, most from 90 minutes of Ms. X or Mr. Y yelling, labeling, and scolding. Data and feedback? B and J were loudly studying for their quiz in Ms. X’s class, heedless of our whole-class reading. B, K, and Z weren’t loud, but weren’t focused; neither were U and B, who “had to” talk about other things, or B and N, who “had to” tune out completely. “I’m starting to fear,” I said, “that I ought to take down the Latin Family signs and mottoes, because it feels like you don’t want to be part of that.” Data … and feedback.
And then came words of apology – words, I told them, that I appreciate, but can’t yet trust. Meaning those words would mean you’d change your behavior … and we haven’t had enough time or space for that. “I can imagine the excuses,” I said, “for today: it was Monday, and I was gone for three days last week, and there was a three-day weekend, and the time change happened. But those are terrible excuses!”
Data … and feedback. Ever so slowly, I felt joyful community rebuilding. But I’m weary of the daily struggle to rebuild it when Ms. X and Mr. Y unintentionally, constantly tear it down!
The Latin IV and AP group had done a remarkable job with their projects; they went on to do solid work with difficult selections from the beginning of Aeneid Book II. So the school day ended well. Then came the meeting after school, a quiet cup of coffee, a phone call with a friend, the Monday Evening Book Group where we discussed of the “Gandhi chapter” in Philip Yancey’s book,.
After that long, struggle-filled day, I found hope and comfort in Gandhi’s struggles to build peaceful, diverse community in India. It wasn’t “perfectly” successful, nor easy, and his work hasn’t survived the hustle and bustle of 21st-century India. But in his time and place, Gandhi built joyful communities … and was a catalyst for change.
When I think about Ms. X and her “what they’re gonna get” numbers, Mr. Y and the study guide, Powers That Be whose feedback is delayed, it’s comforting to know that joyful community doesn’t have to be perfect, easy, or permanent. Right for now … that’s a powerful thing! What will I do today that’s Right For Now?