Sunday, February 16, 2014

Memorable Teachers and Danielson - A letter to my supervisor

Hi Nadine,

As I reflect on the exercise you gave us at a recent department meeting- to discuss in small groups teachers in our past that had an indelible impression on us as students and then evaluate them in terms of the characteristics of the Danielson, I reach an interesting conclusion.  I think the expected outcome would be that these teachers in my past would have had effective and highly effective marks in many of the instructional domains 2 and 3. Perhaps they did. But, none of that kind of technical skill stayed with me. They were a handful of teachers who had a profound impact on me and they were across disciplines: music, social studies, psychology. And what made them so accessible to me I don't find a place for on the Danielson Framework. If there is a nook, it's a relatively insignificant one. This points to a problem I have with the Danielson Framework- it reflects in the inhumanity of the current educational reform movement. 

Conversely it was the humanity and honesty that these educators lived every day in the classroom that made me putty in their hands. Such people had the qualities for a genuine relationship with me. They knew me. I was not some data point that could be broken down into components for differentiation. I was a whole human to them. Of course they knew their content and exercised enough classroom management to keep things moving. But, it was the simple things they did and said. My 8th grade social studies teacher was openly critical of Nixon and the War in Vietnam and that we should all so see the new musical, Hair. These were bold statements to make in right-wing St. Louis. My high school music teacher saw my passion for playing drums and devoted herself, perhaps to a fault, to my musical advancement and promotion. And a psychology teacher I had as a senior who had a sensitivity to what young people my age were going through offered a number of insights that told us we were going to be ok. 

However, as I reflect on these teachers and hunt that Danielson Framework I don't see a place to hinge what made them special to me. Sure the Framework does a good job out outlining what would be logically expected of good mechanical instruction. But, it cannot capture the qualities of the art of teaching and the honesty required to be the teacher/artist. 

Danielson doesn't recognize teaching as an art. There's no room for creativity. Her educational universe is bland and superficial. I realize she had not spent many years herself as a full-time teacher to experience this kind of depth of the profession. She was very mobile rapidly ascending the bureaucratic ladder becoming an expert at everything except aerospace (or, was she an astronaut too?). How could she have possibly experienced the nuances of the profession as did Jonathan Kozol or Frank McCourt. Both of these seasoned teachers emphasized authenticity in the character of the educator. 

We have to welcome our students with unconditional positive regard. Yet, we have to expect they have come from homes that have prepared them to be civilized enough to function in a room with youth so as to not detract from a collective effort at discovery. I am happy to report that the vast majority of students want to learn in this way. The problem is that too many lack the academic skills to do so. Many came from homes where they were not read to by their parents and were physically punished. Adding to these problems were the social promotions and over-testing of the Bloomberg/Klein administration. Learning became just one damn test after another and everyone went to the 9th grade when you hit 14 years old regardless of one's reading level. They have learned to hate school over the years. They learned the the principal requires an 80 percent passing rate from teachers and, therefore, if they just showed up enough they'd get their 65 and pass. 

Add to that unrealistic expectations placed on teachers and the disconnect between how we are evaluated and the reality we know as educators and the atmosphere becomes toxic. We are expected to bore our kids to death covering the breadth of the subject area to get them past the Regents at the expense of the depth that can captivate young minds for subject matter.  In contradictory fashion we expect critical thinking to meet Common Core requirements but do so in a mode of accountability that the joy of discovery is irrelevant. 

Honesty and humanity make an authentic educator. As someone who prescribes to Albert Einstein's belief that "it's the art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge." I was encouraged by NYC Schools Chancellor Farina's statement that there's not enough joy in our schools today. Only in an atmosphere that values humanity and honesty can we nurture the joy that comes with discovery. The current educational regime for which you choose to be a functionary strangles any prospects for such joy. I can only be grateful I didn't go to high school in this age of hyper accountability and inhumanity. I suspect also that these memorable teachers would not have been allowed to be the humans they were.

In all sincerity,


p.s. Can I submit this article as an artifact for a Danielson Domain credit? 


Anonymous said...

John, This is brilliant, right on the money! "Spewed out over morning coffee"? If so, its a finsihed product that hits home, one I relate to entirely! Thanks for your deep thinking, even if you were just waking up...Peace, Martin

Francesco Portelos said...

Use this as an artifact? hah. Why not?