Need Good Advice

Got this from a group member:

Hi Ben,

I wanted to report a rare occurrence for me. My principal came to observe my French one class. He loved the classroom structures, the student jobs and expectations. However, he picked two students “at random” to monitor during our invisibles story. One student was just eating crackers and was described as “in a trance.” To me this is good. Unfortunately, he noted basically zero engagement with this student and saw that this student had an A in the class. He had concerns about her not doing the gesture with me, not suggesting and this student did not have a sign to hold up. Again, zero engagement. He wants up to meet ALL students. I will meet with him soon.

In my class, I have them self-evaluate and I trust my students. These influence how I grade as well how they feel that they are doing. Additionally, I give credit/no credit for my free writes. In this way I respect their own SLA process. In contrast, the other student was engaged quietly by occasionally suggesting details and gesturing when I was gesturing.

Now, having to look at freewrites the two students demonstrate two different levels of proficiency. The student who was “not engaged” wrote a simple, barely comprehensible story about a fish eating a cat. While the other student had a much more comprehensible story. I am stuck here as to what to say. I can BS somethings about SLA to defend myself. I would like to hear from the PLC about this. For now, I’m thinking “The jig is up!”

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20 thoughts on “Need Good Advice”

  1. You need to make sure that you tell him that you know the strengths and weaknesses of the individual that “wasn’t engaged.” Such as what type of learner he is, what he looks like when he is learning, whether or not you give him special attention during certain tasks, or “scaffold” things for him, what type of student you “partner him with” sometimes. Every learner is different. You respect those differences and that is great. Talk about a few times in which he was actively engaged so it doesn’t look like he’s always eating cheetos. Look straight at the Danielson Rubric or whatever you use and pick out some key words to provide “evidence” that he gets the job done.

    1. Thanks for the pointers Jeff. I have evidence of learning but my concern is her grade. It may be too inflated… but she was the star of the week and we interviewed her. Her freewrite is not as conprehensible…. she may be freaking out.

  2. Of COURSE your admin chose this student to look at. I agree that you are showing you are a “highly effective” teacher by knowing that your students acquire language at different speeds. Just because this student wrote less during a freewrite doesn’t mean he or she is not engaged and acquiring. Does this student have a classroom job? I like Jeff’s idea of providing examples of how you are scaffolding.

    1. Its a good time to review those classroom jobs. This class reminds me of that blog post of 3 students ruining a class. I have about 7 to 8 students who volunteer all the time.

    2. Emeka said:

      …does this student have a classroom job?…

      Bam! That’s the first step in this process. The last step, to skip forward, is to accept that we can’t change people. We can’t change the kid, and we especially can’t change admins who, like Emeka said, of course focused on that one kid (HOW DO THEY DO THAT?). We do what we can, we leave alone what we can’t do, and if we get misjudged by an admin, them so be it. We do what we can.

      We have to let go of, not accept, the fear energy that the admin no doubt tried to send Steven’s way. But I met Steven this past summer in a SF workshop, and I can say that he will not, will not, let the misguided criticism of this admin person get in his way. A lot of teachers would like think that they would lose their job because they got found out by some superior. They would believe him in calling out that kid. They might even lose a bit of sleep over it, worrying that their job is now on the line because as Steven said, they got busted. But Steven knows -and those coming to Portland will get to meet him this summer – is a no-nonsense player who knows that he NOT inferior on any level to this person, and that in fact he is rocking the house with the research. So I am sure that whatever happens in the external world relative to conversations and follow-ups with this person about the non-participatory kid, Steven will know that he is right and he will not be moved. And he knows that his job is not on the line. Because he pretty much putting a thumb print on Fresno right now and that whole SoCal area and reaching a lot of us here on our group as well. And all that in his second years as a teacher. That admin will probably one day thank Steven for providing such calm and rational and research based straightening out of his stinking thinking. But what will be the greatest and most solid underpinning to Steven’s argument? It will be the obvious success his children enjoy in his classroom because they have such a strong and dedicated teacher. It will be in the fact that they actually feel that they can learn a language. It will be in the fact that they don’t have a vegetable for a teacher.

      1. Ben wrote: admins who, like Emeka said, of course focused on that one kid (HOW DO THEY DO THAT?)

        They do that because that one kid was different, and they – like all of us – notice what is different. This is even more true if they are OCD. Think about it. We all see
        – the one soldier out of step
        – the one kid in choir who isn’t singing
        – the one guy who is driving too fast (or too slow)
        – etc.
        We notice them because they are different.

        The problem with the evaluation is that no one acknowledges the other 30-40 kids who are actively engaged in Interpersonal Communication. Of course, some people approach evaluations with the idea of “If I didn’t say there was a problem, then it was okay.” They focus only on the negative and believe that only the negative requires comment; what you do right needs (and therefore receives) no mention. I once worked for a boss like that: it didn’t matter how excellent your work was or how far above “standard” you went, there was no comment. If, however, you erred in some way, she was immediately there to tell you about it and perhaps even write a reprimand for your personnel folder. Somehow, according to her actions, everyone knew when they had done a good job and therefore did not need to be told, but people didn’t know when they had done a poor job? That’s how many administrators approach their evaluations, I think.

  3. I see two choices:

    1) Fight the good fight and make the argument from an SLA perspective. This could easily backfire and be much more work than you have the time to do. You might also lose even if you do present the better case.

    2) Give the kid a B.

    1. Its not so hard and fast with my principal. I am down for 1 but im more diplomatic. He in no way wanted me to change. He wanted me to be more admin friendly so he can show me off. However, I’ve heard this before. I am not sure if I will ever change. I don’t want the glory, i want a fan base… the students are more important.

      1. He doesn’t get that you can’t really be both things he wants. Ask him if he would make mothers create daily lesson plans for their communication with their babies. Maybe he’ll understand then. There are so many times when admins get their attention diverted. Just wait and he will forget everything.

  4. Thank you for your comments all. I met with my principal today. We looked at my exit ticket which was “what did you find interesting about the story?” I know, its totally hippy and too California even in California. In general my principal was positive and did not wante to take his comment negative but of course I did. We work so hard as teachers and the kids need to be honored! He said that he loves my class and that he wants to showcase me to other teachers. He especially enjoyed the cards i had for the students to lift whenever i asked a question or ised a rejoinder. However, he wanted me to nudge them so that i could get better data that can show me who was with me and who wasn’t.

    1. My principal in India came in and counted responses from all the kids. Each kid in a class of 19, according to her tick marks, was completely engaged every minute. That was at an international school with 19 kids of privilege. Had it been one of my classes in DPS with 38 kids in there, that would not have been the case. If he is asking for more data and you have one of those CA size classes, then the idea of gathering credible data is an impossibility. So you ignore the nudge, wait, and soon he will have forgotten that he even talked to you. That is one of the best things we can do. Wait ’em out. They always have a fire to go put out somewhere. And yet too many of us take it all personally. Waste of prana. So odd, isn’t it? That our classes are flowing along, then they come in and see something like some kid who simply doesn’t have tha capacity to become involved, and then they say we have a problem. They are the one with the problem. Let them solve it by taking the kid out. That is one of the deepest insults to us. To take a kids with so much on his head just living, and then telling us that the kid is not involved and pls show us some data so that we can use the data to fix the problem. It reveals real stupidity on the part of those admins to try to coax something out of a teacher that… hello!… is not possible to make happen bc of all the armoring in kids like that. I tried to reach those kids. For forty years. Doesn’t work.

      1. America has two big problems. A poverty problem and a mental health epidemic. The kids are reeling under these two big problems. No amount of instructional changes is going to solve these problems obviously. But the more acceptance and love we can get into our classes and the less judgement and ranking and sorting, the better we can coax these kids out from under these big problems. Sometimes though I truly think a kid needs to just lie fallow from time to time. This could be education heresy but I sometimes let the kids be. Admin hates it but they’re not always fully human.

        1. I agree with all my heart. Kids are in pain most of the time. And really? Someone stops in to play “gotcha” with one kid on one day? Gimme a break.

          There is such a disconnect! I feel it here in my building, in this “notorious” community that has been labeled this way for generations. Right now there is a lot of energy and money from grants pouring into various programs for suicide prevention and mental health. I am grateful for that YET…the “general population of teachers” (from what I overhear in the hallways) actually complains about “too much focus on mental health. We are an academic program.” This attitude flabbergasts me, because the roots of all the “misbehavior” we all complain about are mental health issues stemming from generational trauma. Good golly why is that so hard to connect?!?!?! At the same time I believe their hearts are in the right place, and they are in that “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”mode. But the kids mostly do not have any boots.

          I feel deeply for my principal. She is a first year administrator straight from the classroom. Biggest heart on the planet. She “gets it” and she is also up against a brutal city council trying to cut cut cut.

          1. Jen. You’ve hit the head on the nail. Thank you! At school we have an advisory period about 35 mins every other week. In my class they are 8th graders that i dont have in my instructional classes. Essentially it is a time to do social emotional work plus academic accountability. Well, all i have been doing is talking to them, asking questions and listening. Many are failing at this honors school and are feeling pretty bad. Theres no talk about equity or poverty at our school as many of our gifted students come from poverty stricken areas. Ive asked how many hours of sleep students get. Average was about 6. Average time spent on homework was 3 minimum. Then one of my students wrote a petition to reduce homework in all classes (they have 8). I mentioned it to a veteran teacher. They said, they are on their phones and not actually doing their homework. Well, even so, they are social beings with few adults around that care for them. Its all for the test scores here. Even my ci classes seem like a dim light at the end of a long dark tunnel.

        2. Tina you’ve read my mind again. What you said in that comment describes my deepest reason to be in our field. Why else would we work with these kids? To show off our knowledge of grammar? To be in control? In control of what? Hurting kids? The building of bridges to their suffering hearts is the first order of business. If we haven’t built that bridge with a certain student like the one in Fresno that the admin brought up, then that is something that the admin is going to have to accept. No one is going to be able to accuse Steven of not trying. He is as good as it gets in working on behalf of children in the way that Tina describes and he just started teaching less than two years ago!

          Like jen said:

          …kids are in pain most of the time. And really? Someone stops in to play “gotcha” with one kid on one day? Gimme a break….

          The admin, really and truly, comes off looking like a dumb ass when you think about his picking this kid out of Steven’s class. How is doing that helping anyone on the planet?

          1. I had a chat with a colleague a while back.. He brought up a good point. He said that like all admins they have to play the system of documenting shortcomings. My other colleague never even reads the admins evaluation comments. He just signs off and moves on.

          2. I’m totally becoming that way, Steven. I’d rather not even bother reading the evaluations. As long as I’m in good standing for contract renewal, that’s really all that matters. At my last evaluation after all three administrators whipped through their required comments, they seemed finally relieved to share that they, generally speaking, have great appreciation for the sense of joy I bring to the school. That was a great compliment.

          3. Yes!!!!! Me too. I think part of the reason I don’t get along with my admin is I told her I just care about keeping my job not getting good scores on a teacher eval rubric that is not assessing what I’m trying to lay down in my classroom.

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