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Stress at the end of the school year.

24 Apr

Six more weeks of school to go. For me this is one of the most stressful school year endings of my career. Some of the factors:

  • Teacher bashing is prominently featured on the news at least once a week. Some of it, like the amazingly resilient idea that somehow teachers and other public employees are not taxpayers, is laughable. Much of it, though, is just disheartening to those of us who spend days, evenings, weekends, and “vacations” trying to meet  the needs of every student in our diverse classrooms.
  • In the national and state legislatures’ version laws are passed that require us to take weeks of instruction time each year to test our students. Then, when they don’t do well it is obviously because of poor teaching. Now we are designing ways to assess teachers to ensure that they are performing at a superhuman level. Denver’s new teacher evaluation system (LEAP) is a case in point. Though it has some good features and many good intentions, my experience of participating in the first pilot year is that it is unrealistic on many levels. First, every teacher is to have four formal observations each school year, two from a school administrator and two more from an outside observer. Though we are asked to focus on two major areas, in each observation we are scored on 28 pages of detailed “Best Practices” observable behaviors. Several of our best teachers have scored below “Effective” by this measurement, even teachers whose students have exceeded their expected progress on the state tests. Would the legislators like to be held accountable in the same way? This process is also unrealistic for the administrators. Since the program began in January I have only had one of my four observations, partly due to my principal’s lack of time. When we made budget decisions for next year we cut our RTI coordinator, who has been instrumental in helping teachers plan instructional interventions for students who are not progressing, in order to hire an assistant principal to help with the teacher observations.
  • As the end of the year closes in regular curriculum is pretty much out the window, which makes me wonder what my last three observations will be like. Besides end-of-year field trips and practicing for the  “Continuation” event, we are trying to fit in Young Ameritowne (a great program, but it requires almost two months of daily curriculum), Family Life (aka sex ed), We the People (a U.S. Constitution curriculum culminating in a mock legislative hearing), and of course more formal testing.
  • As if all this weren’t enough, we were just informed that our principal is not returning next year. Two days later we learned that one of our fourth grade teachers, who has been battling cancer for two years, passed away.
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