Clueless

In response to a newly passed senate bill, last week I dashed off a flippant Facebook post that read, “Evaluating a teacher based on current standardized test practices is like evaluating a dentist based on the oral health of a patient he’s had for a few months.”

Which… I kind of feel is true. Because my sophomores have only been in my classroom for 40 days of instruction so far (assuming they are not new transfers and have never been absent >insert hysterical laughter<) and the test they took last week is supposed to measure the sum total of all of their language skills learned over the past 11 years. I’m not really sure how their scores will reflect the effectiveness of my teaching.

But.

I’ve been thinking of this teacher/dentist metaphor, and I think it might be flawed.

The way I see it, there are a limited number of professions. We have the diagnostics/healers: Dentists, therapists, doctors, and the like. Their job is to diagnose problems with the human physical/mental/emotional condition and propose a treatment plan. We measure their effectiveness not by the patient’s willingness to accept their advice, but by the clarity of their insight, and the effectiveness of their treatment plan when voluntarily implemented by those patients who wish to do so. Under no circumstance do we penalize them for patients who choose not to follow directions, or for patients who become terminally ill for unknown reasons while in their care. Nor do we expect them to treat more than one patient at a time. In fact, if we were to discover that a clinic was placing 30 patients alone with them in a small, airless room with them for 7 or 8 hours at a stretch, we would be appalled.

No, teachers  are not at all in that professional category.

There is also the segment of society who are tasked with fixing broken or malfunctioning objects. Mechanics, appliance repairmen, electrical linemen, etc. We call them when something no longer works optimally. They diagnose the problem, and then give us an item-specific estimated timeline and cost for repairs. We measure their effectiveness by whether or not they can restore that inanimate object back to its intended usefulness in a timely manner. Under no circumstance do we expect them to simultaneously diagnose the problems of 30 unique objects by simultaneously performing identical diagnostics on all of them, nor would we want them to attempt to repair 30 different objects by doing the exact same repair work to all objects regardless of the individual malfunctions each one was manifesting.

Oh. And did I mention that none of those in-need-of-repair objects have a mind of their own?

Teachers are clearly not in that professional category.

We also have creators and builders. They take raw materials and transform them into something of beauty and/or usefulness. These people generally work within certain guidelines or laws–natural laws, or man-made ones. They are expected to innovate and create without offending or infringing upon the rights of fellow humans. We evaluate them based on the desirability of their creations. If they can find a market for their goods, or they find personal fulfillment in what they are doing even without a market, we consider them successful. In this sense, perhaps teachers are closer to creators and builders–we expect them to produce something of value for society, but in another sense, we are not. Builders and creators typically create, out of inanimate materials, end products–static products. We do not expect them to create something that is not only beautiful and/or useful, but something that will reproduce after its own kind indefinitely. Nor do not expect them to specialize in every known medium. We understand that painters and writers and musicians and carpenters specialize in a limited type of material. Never has an artist been expected to take 30 different materials and transform all of them at one time into an identical product, using identical processes and time frames.  Never have we measured the value of a symphony against the value of a new chemical compound.

No, teachers are not in the same category as the creators.

I could go on, listing every profession and you might argue with many of my classifications, and I would most certainly miss something.

My point is: where to teachers fit in? What other profession shares this category and how are those people evaluated? Is there any profession in which workers are evaluated on a similar basis as teachers?

I believe teachers should be evaluated. I do. I believe “bad” teachers should be removed. But how do we measure good and bad teaching? And if we get rid of all the bad teachers, who is going to take their place? Because right now in many districts the main thing we are looking for is a pulse. Okay, not quite. But kind of. I mean… the teacher shortage “myth” isn’t actually a myth.

Part of me thinks the entire system is flawed. Part of me thinks it was designed for an entirely different era. But a bigger part of me hasn’t got a clue how to fix things.

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