Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Holding us accountable

On Friday afternoon one of my teammates and I sat down to attempt to plan our Thanksgiving unit. We were looking at all of the teaching objectives we need to hit- the students' IEP goals, the state testing standards, the county report card standards, the county grade level curriculum, and the boxed programs we are suppose to teach (which do not correspond with state standards or the county curriculum) for each of our grade levels (between us we have to cover grades K-5).  Not wanting to be a pessimist I was determined that we could pull this off. I mean, if someone tells me it's possible then I'm going to make it happen.

I'm new to this position. I'm still learning that the people who tell us what's possible have no idea. They are hoping naive teachers like me will make it possible. 

I don't have anyone in a testing grade, but she does. Our kiddos are not going to take the standardized state test but instead, because as teachers we still need to be held accountable, we must create binders for each child showing that we taught the specific testing requirements and that the children completed the tasks and know the information. We poured over past binders looking at exactly all the work that would need to be done in order to show what had been taught. Still wanting to be positive I took a deep breath and explained a plan to achieve what needed to be taught in a meaningful way. If we are deliberate about it up front then we can still have good teaching- right?

She looked at me sadly, the way you look at a child who asks to go trick or treating the day after Halloween. Oh honey, that's cute, and so, so, not going to happen.

This has to be done by the end of January, she pointed out. And went on to explain the timeline that needed to happen in order for this massive binder to be produced and submitted for grading by the end of the year.

And it was at that moment I lost any positive outlook I had left about this job. 

This. is. crap.

I was OK with teaching standards that didn't really matter to kids who truly need to know life skills. I was OK with putting kids through tasks and worksheets as long as I could at least attempt to make them meaningful. I actually enjoy looking at all the standards and goals and creating units that will meet all of them. I love finding ways to teach all of these objectives organically and in meaningful ways. I love linking it all together. 

But to tell me that it all has to be done by January- that I'm not actually suppose to make these things meaningful to the kids- I'm not suppose to be a good teacher. I'm suppose to give a child a meaningless worksheet, briefly teach the subject and then re-teach it over and over again until the child can perform it for that worksheet only. Then I put the worksheet into a plastic sleeved binder along with all the other worksheets that have been a complete waste of time and I submit it for a grade. A meaningless grade because the child isn't actually expected to know the information because I wasn't expected to actually teach the information. It is a binder just for show.

I know, I know. Many of you are shaking your heads. How could I be naive after ten years of teaching? 

I really lived in my happy, naive place where I believed that if I deliberately planned out instruction and made it meaningful then I could teach the standards AND life skills and that the combination would be better for my kids. High expectations along with realistic, important expectations.

The thing is, I'd like to meet a parent of a child with an intellectual disability who WANTS their child to go through this mess. I can't imagine one of my parents saying, "Oh yes, I want to know that my child can identify the Powhatan Indians on a worksheet. Please spend valuable time making sure that my child can identify the Powhatan Indians vs other American Indian tribes on a worksheet. That's more important than knowing how to safely cross the street, identifying the letters, telling me that they love me, or counting to 10. And make sure it is on a worksheet. Not a fun hands-on activity that can help my child distinguish between American Indians and settlers, but a worksheet. Yes, as a parent, please give me that data. I need to know that my child's teacher is being held accountable just like all the other teachers."

I've heard numerous parents complain about this process. So why are we doing it? Why are we taking away from quality instruction? To tell politicians and the public that special education teachers are also being held accountable? 

It's an amazing waste of time and resources. No one is benefiting from this. Not the kids, not the parents, not the schools or the teachers. We're jumping through a hoop because someone told us to, and no one can tell us why other than saying, "Because you must be held accountable."

I'm not sure how long I can participate in this.


Dana said...

I have had your blog in my reader for quite some time, and finally decided to comment.

You said, I'm not sure how long I can participate in this.

I am the parent of a child with an IEP (Aspergers, ADD, ODD). He is currently a junior in high school. I have been doing this special education thing for 10 years and am a naive parent, always working under the presumption that my son will succeed in school - that the IEP team really is a team that works together in the best interest of my son.

This year, I realized that teacher accountability is causing a HUGE riff within the IEP team. What is best for my son - what will actually educate him in the way he needs to be educated - is not compatible with the accountability requirements of the teachers.

Our priorities and motivators are vastly different, not because the teachers don't want to do what is best for my son, but because they are bound by a bunch of requirements that are not best for my son.

They are now pushing for out-placement as a solution, not because it is in my son's best interest, but because their hands are tied.

I'm not sure how long *I* can participate in this.

organized chaos said...

I can't even begin to wrap my head around it from a parent's perspective- if it frustrates me as the teacher I can only imagine how much it would just make my head explode from a parent's perspective. It's amazing that what was put in place to improve education is actually hurting our kids. I hope your IEP team finds a solution that is best for your son. Keep me posted! I'll be thinking of you!

Anonymous said...

This is also partly a case of, "be careful what you ask for, because you might get it." There has been a push for children with intellectual disabilities to get the same curriculum, with the same goals, as typical children. Sometimes parents are part of this push; more often, advocacy organizations and education school faculty. The work sheets stored in a binder are the only way to document that this course is being pursued. As you are learning, there can be a downside to high expectations.