Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Choosing a School: Training vs. Evaluation

"The eagle never lost so much time as when he submitted to learn of the crow." 
 -- William Blake

As we continue to assist you in finding the right school for your child, let's move on to No. 2 on our list:

2. Does the school use a training program to evaluate teachers?

Many schools, including the ones in Seminole County, use a program designed by Robert Marzano to evaluate teachers that was to train them. This is just flat-out insane. My specialty is language, yet try as I might, I've never come up with a better term than "bull shit" to describe this process.  

A brief aside:  My final years as a high-school teacher occurred during the Marzano Reign of Terror, which, in the realm of pedagogy, made Robespierre look like a laid-back, weed-puffing pacifist. The damage that recklessness did to faculty morale may someday go away, but if I were you, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting on it.
What classroom observers look like to teachers.
Many of my veteran colleagues were very talented, very gifted teachers who had learned from experience how to teach in a most effective and responsive way.  But they were forced to join the same robotic, chimpanzeean ranks their young colleagues were being bullied into.

What a dazzlingly audacious lack of trust that was! My older colleagues and I found this outrageous, disrespectful, infantilizing, asinine and insulting. But we were reminded by people who knew better, "Just remember, it's all about the kids."
Don't mind me. Proceed as normal.

Really? Well, I actually taught those kids, and they immediately recognized the Marzonification of their education for the joke it was. They kidded us about it.

During class, they would jokingly remind us what we were supposed to be doing according to Marzano. And during observations, they gave us smirking, knowing looks while we kissed up to whatever administrator was evaluating us.

What fool doesn't know that once teenagers smell a scam, you've lost them? They were in no mood to take school seriously in the first place.

So this process supposedly told the evaluators how good or bad teachers were. Hmm. Try to imagine Aristotle, Gautana Buddha, Jesus, Confucious, Maria Montessori, Booker T. Washington and Joseph Campbell being evaluated by the Marzano method. Could it recognize, define or quantify their value?

I'm pretty sure Buddha, Jesus and Confucius would all have been docked for not providing clear yes-or-no answers. (For example, evaluator to Jesus: "I had to dock you for telling an entire story to that lawyer who asked who his neighbor was. Next time, just come out and say it!") So much for perfection!

Picture Peter Abelard, the 12th-century monk, best known for being moved from the baritone section of the monastery choir to the contertenor or castrato  section as punishment for an indiscreet hook-up with his student Heloise.

Actually, instead of picturing that, picture him in the classroom, where he was considered the greatest teacher of his age, dismissing the old-fashioned lectio method for the more interactive disputatio (as they call it on the streets). And while Abelard articulated a problem and evoked thoughtful responses from his students, picture some clueless eunuch sitting in the back, tapping away on a medieval version of an iPad. Had Abelard been born a mere 10 centuries later, that would have been his fate.
Enjoy this lovely image of one of Marzano's four "Domains," each w/ I reckon 15 "indicators." What does it all mean? The answer begins with "Who gives a . . . "

Admittedly, SCPS schools have recently stopped using that method for evaluating older teachers, because it was stupid. (Idea for a joke: "How long does it take a school board to acknowledge and admit that a policy, decision or process is stupid?" Feel free to provide your own punchline.)

The district continues, however, to evaluate newcomers using a system so derivative of Marzano you can still read his faded name next to the copyright symbol on the countless handouts distributed during department meetings.

This is also stupid, and here's why:

It has been common knowledge for decades that teacher training should be separated from teacher evaluation. In the training process, a teacher will mainly learn if her teaching methods are considered effective by her mentor(s). Ideally, after an observation, she will be given notes that include tactful suggestions, probably with sentences that generally adhere to this template: "When you ______, I felt ________," as opposed to "You shouldn't pick your nose while a student is asking a question."

But if your mentor/observer is also evaluating you, things can get truly messy. Every poorly worded question, every slip of the tongue, every failure to gauge the level of understanding of every student in the class, every failure to use the latest technology -- all of that and more will fall into the hands of the administrator who controls the teacher's future.

If the administrator is not especially fond of the teacher or is more fond of another teacher or she simply needs to thin the herd, any of the teacher's blunders, large or small, can light the way to the teacher's exit from the school and possibly from teaching. The mistakes she needed to learn from have instead pushed her into an unsatisfactory career of selling lotto tickets, cigarettes and overpriced lousy beer at a 7-11.

Finally, the results of a teacher observation, whether they be good or bad, are invariably misleading. As I have argued elsewhere, the presence of an observer of any kind -- especially a eunuch with an iPad -- disrupts the sense of community it has taken the class weeks to create. The students become someone else. Their relationship with the teacher changes. The class as a whole becomes self-conscious, moving from a learning environment to bad, amateur, fear-tinged theater.

No matter how hard the evaluator tries to quantify, praise or deride the authentic process of teaching-learning (there shouldn't even be a dash between those two terms), she cannot do it. She is watching a pretend version. Her evaluation is pretend, thus worthless.

It would even be worthless if the evaluator could force herself to be objective, but she can't. She feels something about the teacher and his students, and she therefore cannot help but co-create the events she "sees." And may God spread his mercy on the teacher when her evaluator drops by when she (the evaluator) is in a bad mood. Talk about a buzzkill! Talk about a career jeopardizer!

The authentic teaching-learning moment is eternal, imperceptible, ineffable. It is as subtle and still as the stars appearing in gradual darkness, but as powerful as a supernova. At that moment, the learner may feel nothing, but she has been set on fire. The teacher never knows about it at all, unless the learner tells him later.

Somehow, in spite of how hard the DEA, the State, the County, the Marzanodopes and iPad peckers try to prevent it, the teacher can conspire and join with his students to create an environment in which this mystery can occur. 

What sort of Pecksniffian, bean-counting, lint-picking, bureaucratic moron thinks she can capture that mystery?

To sum up, you should avoid like grim death itself any school you visit or research that still uses such a misguided, wrongheaded method of evaluating its teachers.

I'll be back soon to explain the Man's need to define "The Right Way" to teach (out of the million-and-three different ones) and to force that Way down the throats of well-meaning human beings who actually want to teach. Then we'll continue to No. 3 on our list. 

We'll try to finish this in time for your offspring to get the education they deserve.


  1. Horrifying-and funny as all get out (and I'm talking about that rubric, not just your prose). "Withitness"??? Don't even.

    1. It really is insane. It really is. I feel insane just writing about it.

  2. Every word of this is sad, true, and at the same time, hits the proverbial nail on the head. Love the analogy of the classroom theater, anyone should recognize this disaster. Who is proving what to whom? Those Marzano Marxists!

  3. Just now reading these. Only at #2 and I need a beer.