Eight thousand eight hundred. That is my conservative guess for how many classes I have taught at Lowell High School in the past ten years. 180 days X 5 classes per day X 10 years. I then subtracted twenty classes a year that are missed due to assemblies, testing(!), and fire drills and ended up with the number eight thousand eight hundred. And so it does seem a bit odd or dare I say, daunting, that my evaluation would be based on my supervisor’s evaluation of only one of those eight thousand eight hundred classes. I hadn’t been evaluated in ten years when SG told me he would like to come into my class. That’s cool, I thought. I mean I have been teaching 16 years and I have had all sorts of people watch me teach including student teachers, Cambodian interns, and deaf interpreters. I usually thrive on the audience; someone else to laugh at my jokes if you will. Of course, none of them was evaluating me based on one class. But I wasn’t nervous.
I became a little passive aggressive about my evaluation and decided not to do the dog and pony show lesson plan trick. I learned about this trick back at my job at Boston University (the eighties!) where I was told by colleagues that when the evaluator is scheduled to come into your classroom, you just pull out the dog and pony show lesson plan and knock his/her academic socks off. But everybody knows it is NOT really how you teach, because in a real classroom the teacher cannot plan an amazing lesson every day. And even if you did PLAN an amazing lesson every day, you couldn’t possibly DELIVER an amazing lesson every day because some days there is a technology malfunction, or you’re interrupted by the loudspeaker four times, or you have a stuffy nose. And so my passive aggressiveness came into play. I decided to show off my non-teaching strengths; one of which is to drum up $$$ to get materials and gadgets for my classroom without waiting for elusive school support. A year ago, I received funding through donorschoose.org to purchase electronic jeopardy which costs about $600 and so I asked SG to come and observe my students playing JEOPARDY! electronic style. No dog and pony show for me!
The night before my evaluation, I had a nightmare about a technology snafu during my evaluation (which btw, almost happened), and had to admit that all the passive aggressive lesson planning in the world couldn’t prevent my real emotions from coming into play. I WAS nervous about my evaluation. Although I didn’t believe my job was on the line, I did have that nagging insecurity, the demon that I have faced many times before. The demon is fraud. And it sneaks up and tells me that I have been lucky so far that nobody has discovered the truth. That I’m not very good.
And so I understood the suicide a couple of weeks ago by Rigoberto Ruelas, a teacher in a tough school in LA who was labeled as ‘less effective’ in a published report ranking thousands of teachers in the LA Times. Mr. Ruelas was a devoted teacher who reached out to troubled kids and spent weekends tutoring and making home visits. And yet what mattered, what became public, was a ranking based on standardized test scores. The demon was in the data. Right now, the data drives decisions and dredges up the demons.
Teacher evaluations are based on many sources of input. But there is always one source that seems to reign supreme and has the ability to bring us down and bring our demons up. In Mr. Ruelas’ case it was the published data based on test scores; in my case it was an observation of one class out of eight thousand eight hundred classes.
Rigoberto Ruelas may you rest in peace.