Oct 232011
 

New evaluation methods are being tested that could have a significant impact upon tenure, pay, and seniority rights here in New Jersey where I teach. The pilot program embraces many of the ideas in vogue right now. Up to half of the evaluation would be based on “student performance” aka proficiency on standardized testing. Merit payis also a possibility.The new methods are well rooted in the Waiting for Superman school of thought; that an effective teacher is the most important factor, maybe the only factor that matters, in a child’s success in school.

“When you see a great teacher, you are seeing a work of art “ – Geoffrey Canada

The Superman mindset is a seductive one. Who doesn’t want superhuman beings to just walk in and be able to fix any situation because they are, well, just super? It places all of the burden for a child’s success squarely in the lap of the classroom teachers while absolving all decision makers of responsibility. This mentality makes it possible to slash school budgets, to remove resources, to cause class sizes to balloon while at the same time allowing schools to stagnate
without any repercussions. For those expected to be super, it is all accountability with little autonomy. Why should we change anything? You’re super, deal with it.

Never mind that Superman is from another planet. I guess none of us are qualified to teach under this paradigm.


As a model for education, maybe we should look to a superhero that could actually exist – Ironman. Where Superman’s abilities are innate, Ironman’s are cultivated through a combination of creativity, imagination, and resources. The Ironman mindset is one where challenges are identified and solutions are engineered. If parental involvement is a problem, adopt systems that actually make them part of the learning process rather than simple recipients of information. If collaboration and consistency are issues, rethink how students are rostered to teachers. If attendance is a problem, find ways to make common time and place less important.Where the Superman mindset places blame, the Ironman mindset requires work. It places responsibility upon the keepers of the system. It requires initiative and a will to change.  It requires significant investments in time and effort from all stakeholders. It is a commitment to ongoing improvement, of identifying challenges and building systems to overcome them, and taking personal responsibility. Ultimately, however, it is a mindset that will reap rewards because anybody can be an Ironman.

Getting back to the new evaluation pilots, there is little to do with the organization’s responsibility to build capacity. It focuses almost completely upon teaching “better, faster, more”. The only systems that are being revamped serve as sticks to punish poor performance. It tells teachers to play it safe lest they risk loosing their jobs. It is a BE super mindset. There is little to build that capacity to improve.
Superman is an alien who was super. Ironman created the capacity to be super. Who are we really waiting for?

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