Classroom Management, the 1947 Way

For your viewing pleasure (or horror), an old teacher educational video of how to manage one’s classroom.  I’m not always so sure how far we’ve come.

Teacher, Lorraine Lapthorne conducts her class in the Grade Two room at the Drouin State School, Drouin, Victoria

How to Measure Teacher Performance, Historically

A friend and high school English teacher asked me a question about the relationship between teaching and data.  Responding to a chapter I wrote for a forthcoming book, he posted in part:

Teaching is obviously an incredibly complex skill. Do you think teacher performance is impossible to quantify with accuracy, or just that creating data about teacher performance does more harm (fueling a school-privatizing “conservative reform” agenda) than good (providing objective information to help improve evaluation/instruction).  [Posted by Chris Fazio on Facebook]

I’m grateful for the dialogue my friend opens with this question. The debate about how to evaluate teacher performance is not as new as it seems.  It was a trending topic nearly a century ago.  In 1919, articles ran in a journal for school administrators that read like they were written today.  On preparing new teachers, a contributor writes:

The proper training of teachers in sufficient numbers to supply all the public schools with thoroly [sic] prepared instructors is the most important service that can be rendered in a commonwealth.  Much progress has been made in the public school systems in the United States since the opening of the twentieth century, but there is still an appalling degree of neglect…More than 50,000 teachers have had but eight grades of academic work in public schools and much of this training has been in schools of inferior type.

And, on evaluating classroom teachers, another author writes:

The necessity of rating and grading teachers as part of a systematic plan of salary betterment is quite generally admitted and also quite generally practiced in all the large and larger school systems.  Teachers expect salary increases and are, of course, entitled to increase…On what basis shall salary increase be bestowed? and, Who shall be the judge of the points selected?

Remember: this is almost a century ago.  As reforms in education are implemented today, it can be easy to forget that the issues, the tensions, and even the solutions are not often all that new.  Compare these historical excerpts to the current debate in New York, for instance. Here’s how the New York Times describes state officials’ stance on teacher evaluation reform:

In a letter to the state’s departing education commissioner, John B. King Jr., and the chancellor of the Board of Regents, Merryl H. Tisch, Mr. Cuomo’s director of state operations, Jim Malatras, asserted that the performance of the state’s students on a variety of measures, like graduation rates and test scores, was “unacceptable.” He also enumerated pointed questions about subjects like teacher evaluations and tenure.

The first question on the list, for instance, asked, “How is the current teacher evaluation system credible when only 1 percent of teachers are rated ineffective?”

The letter, which cited “special interests,” a clear reference to the major teachers’ unions, suggested that the governor planned to aggressively confront the unions, which did not endorse him in his re-election campaign.

In one hundred years, the question of evaluating teacher performance (pre-service and in-service) is still rife with uncertainty.  There is, however, one main difference: data.  Despite the fact that there was discussion of using standards to evaluate teachers and students in the early-20th century, what has changed in the last decade especially has been the way those standards are aligned with rubrics and testing mechanisms in order to generate quantitative data.  The words my friend and others use like performance, quantify, and accuracy appear objective and lush with neutrality.  They are not.  They are the universal receivers of the popular and political discourse.  They can mean whatever one wishes–whether it’s 1915 or 2015.

So where do we go from here?

I think we can take meaningful action to improve the quality of teaching and learning only if we have a common understanding of the purpose of public education.  We might have increasingly common standards and common tests, but we do not have a shared sense of purpose.  Personally, I believe the purpose of public education is to prepare an engaged citizenry that thinks critically, organizes around civic issues, contributes to our economy, and celebrates the creative spirit.  Others have their own definitions, whether they are conscious of it or not.  When I taught high school English, I met parents every year who were disappointed that handwriting and grammar were not taught the way they themselves had been taught.  Part of their definition of pedagogy seemed to include penmanship and predicates.  You will likely have your own definition.  Without sustained and sober occasions to negotiate our individual and collective values, our conversations will be tentative, antagonistic, or, perhaps worst of all, obsequious.

We see what happens when such definitions go undiscussed on the national stage today.  As we read headlines from around the country, the commonality of standards for teaching and learning seem to be dividing us along ideological, political, and socioeconomic lines.  Perhaps divisions like these happen because current attempts to reform education bring elaborate solutions to inaccurately conceived problems.  It’s like earnestly trying to measure the height of a mountain with a thermometer.  The height is breathtakingly real, the thermometric units quantitatively precise.  One can be as systematic and aggressive as one wishes to get an accurate measurement, but the result will always leave one exhausted, unsatisfied, and fundamentally off the mark.

Data and common standards for teaching and learning surely have their place in our profession.  But only after we engage in real and rigorous dialogue about the common purpose of public education in the United States.  Let us start there and see how well we ourselves perform.


Throwback: Cartoonist’s Take on Religion and Schools, 1876

As the events in Paris continue to unfold involving the killing of journalists and cartoonists at the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, I find myself reflecting on the freedom of the press, religion, and education.  A cartoonist from the 19th century kept coming to mind: Thomas Nast.  Nast was best known for his depictions of Boss Tweed, New York City’s most notorious politician.  In the cartoon shared here, Nast criticizes the role of the Roman Catholic Church in the public school system.  He shows Roman Catholic bishops as crocodiles about to attack cornered school children, their teacher in a defensive stance.  In the background is the Vatican, to its right a public school with American flag upside down.  Members of the Tweed Ring can be seen scooping up children above the beach and hauling another teacher off to the gallows.


data.path Ryoji.Ikeda - 3

Good Data, Good Teaching?

Politico writes about the drive to use data points to generate profiles of quality teachers–a kind of Moneyball approach to improving education.

While avoiding complete oversimplification, the article is thin on context and only briefly alludes to the rich research base in teacher education that extends beyond the convenient soundbites of think tanks and companies.


A Common (Core) Problem

This opinion piece by David L. Kirp about Common Core implementation captures some of the nuance to the reform rollout.

Insight includes, “Had the public schools been given breathing room, with a moratorium on high-stakes testing that prominent educators urged, resistance to the Common Core would most likely have been less fierce.”



Throwback: 1956 Overhead Projector Patent

As recently as ten years ago, this technology for teaching reading and writing was my classroom go-to.  On one occasion, I used my overhead to re-create Plato’s cave with 9th graders.  Here’s its patent from 1956 courtesy of Google Patent.  Love it.


photo credit: azipaybarah via photopin cc

Albany Signals 2015 Education Reform

  • Education reform in New York State might be in for a new wave of pushes rather than a easing of pressure on districts
  • The departure of Commissioner John B. King was followed up this week by Governor Cuomo re-upping his agenda and pointing a finger at the Board of Regents [read here]