Archive for April, 2008

While I was at the job fair, my students took a multiple-choice test. My master teacher did not appreciate it. She doesn’t know how to assess my assessments.

Your test was too hard.

No, it wasn’t.

The average percentage was failing.

No, it wasn’t.

Confused readers: Let’s do the math. There were 30 multiple-choice questions on this test, each worth two points. The maximum possible score, obviously — he said wryly — is 50 points. Think about it. She saw that most students scored between 14 and 21, and kept 30 as the denominator rather than 25.

To her credit, my master teacher had not heard about my scoring, and had applied her favored conclusion to the issue of test difficutly: Another Student Teacher Mistake.

The 50 points will later be combined with their grades from their two essay questions — 25 points each — to create a psychologically ideal 100-point test.

It was too hard.

No, it wasn’t.

Sure, the questions are hard, but on purpose. Sure, many were just barely beyond the grasp of most of our students. On purpose.

The highest score in either class on the multiple choice was a 24 correct out of 30, and that was from a pretty bright student, and exactly as planned.

Perfect scores mean that it’s possible that the test was too easy, and that, for at least one student, the test did not require thinking. Thinking, by design, is difficult. It is often frustrating. Getting students to think is my goal. Therefore, I would be remiss if I did not make all students think: especially the highest achievers.

Easy tests bore the smart students, lower the depth and breadth of preparation among the middle students and panders to the lowest achievers.

I told my master teacher, when I knew how to phrase it, that I would assess the test results, and I would make adjustments as necessary. That is, I would score the test as intended, which would appear to her as last-minute changes.

Make adjustments as necessary. I like it.

She then abruptly turned and went back to work, as if her intervention had goaded me into this decision. She gets like this frequently, and I’ve learned to deal with it. Generally, I like to delude myself into believing that I know what I’m doing.

Paul Bogush knows whether I should choose the rich kid or the field worker district, but asks that I first answer his questions. As a courtesy to the pagan deities of depth and straightforwardness, I’ll answer the questions here.

Do you believe all kids can learn and are worthy of your time?

Nine out of 10 are worthy of my time. One out of 10 take up so much time that I would be remiss if I gave them everything I needed — to do so would happen at the expense of the rest of the class. I’m there during lunch and before school, so it isn’t like I’m unavailable. I just can’t justify the choice to stop molding nine minds to take care of a non-responsive lump.

If the administrator is to be believed, enthusiastic students are all over the place in Podunk.

When you explain something for the tenth time and the kids still don’t get it, who do you blame?

I don’t want to blame myself. I do, anyway. Chances are, there’s a fault in the lesson or the vocabulary I use — very often over the heads of my students. My master teacher is convinced that I’m too smart for the really low achievers. She’s probably right, and that’s one of those reasons I hesitated in considering Podunk.

I get around this by getting a star student to paraphrase it back to me, or to the rest of the class.

Who is responsible for helping you become a better teacher?

I am. Is there any other answer?

I know I rail on my credential program, but it isn’t because I hate it. It’s because I really hate it. As far as fundamentally useless wastes of time go, this blog is a whole lot more rewarding.

How do you deal with failure?

I ignore it for a time, and sometimes I even get back to it. In the classroom, the petty failures are taken care of easily and immediately — see above “use star student” strategy — while the systemic failures I avoid quite a bit longer. I’m a bigger fan of tweaking than reinventing the wheel.

That’s going to be a problem when I come up with one of those fundamentally flawed lesson. Y’know, like the free ones they have online.

I hope these answers suffice for your questions, and I hope they don’t sound too much like interviewspeak. I’m trying to be critical enough that I don’t sound like I’m interviewing again. And that’s the trouble — the credential program teaches us all the right answers to these questions, and doesn’t dwell enough on how to make these vague generalities work in real life.

Even worse: We don’t have enough time in the classroom to figure it all out for ourselves, or with our master teacher. Just because the good doctorates think they know everything doesn’t mean they have to have all the specificity of Nostradamus.

Let’s assume I have two choices. I have White Kids’ Unified, a mostly wealthy suburban district within spitting distance of my college and hasn’t yet offered me a contract. I also have BFE-Podunk Joint Unified, a very poor rural district that the administration in charge advertises as 95 percent Hispanic, and a district which has offered me a contract.

My master teacher has told me outright on several occasions that I am or may not be good at anything but a middle-class-white-kids’ school. This isn’t a compliment — she probably hates White Kids’ Unified with of the rest of the teachers here, masking her feelings with utter contempt.

I can’t help but think that I really do want to teach at White Kids’ Unified, anyway. Interviewer whoever-she-was was very clear:

Administrators will take care of teachers’ needs. We’re working on putting in projectors in every classroom.

White Kids’ Unified is genuinely interested in putting me in a journalism class, or a real history class. White Kids’ Unified will give me the best chance to teach my AP US History, and the way I want to.

And yet.

Something about Podunk-BFE Joint Unified makes me want that 40-minute commute each way. Something about making a real difference, a real influence. I don’t care even if I am being played for the fool — I could really teach something.

All that stuff about getting into education for the kids isn’t a lie in Podunk. Sure, the mantra of teachers in White Kids’ Unified is, after all: “For the kids.” On the other hand, teachers at Podunk-BFE Joint Unified live that motto.

If they’re working there, they have to.