Today as part of Chancellor’s Conference Day, my fellow teachers and I were obliged to sit through a talk on “Teacher Effectiveness” which seems to be the code word for the brand new teacher evaluation plan released by NYSED Commissioner King on Saturday and to be implemented beginning this September. It was for many of the teachers present the first real exposure to the speeding locomotive racing straight at their hearts and heads.
The presentation was as strange as the subject matter was overwhelming. We sat, the bunch of us, staring at a projector screen filled with graphs and charts while a disembodied voice of a DOE official called “Dave” bumbled his way through the graphics.
Halfway through, disembodied “Dave” was replaced by disembodied Shael Polakow- Sharansky, chief academic officer of the NYC Public Schools. Introduced by “Dave” as “Shael” as if he were an old pal of ours, Sharansky droned on and on and on about a system built upon junk science that seems to be designed to exhaust teachers for the sake of exhausting them, keep administrators and teachers at each others throats, and above all create a climate of perpetual fear. All of this, of course, is to put children first and insure that they would be collage and career ready. Sharansky informed one and all of how we were one and all to be judged, and if need be, fired if we proved to be “ineffective” as teachers.
The torrent of information seemed not merely horrible but interminable. Even though I was familiar with much of what “Dave” and “Shael” were going on about, in time the sheer volume, vulgarity and ruthlessness of the stuff shut down my brain. At the same time I knew most if not all of my colleagues were hearing this for the first time.
Every by and by, I looked around the room and studied the faces and eyes of these decent, hardworking talented teachers I’ve come to know and respect and care about over the years. In time, as the disembodied voices droned on, their eyes grew blank or fearful, their faces masks of dejection. Once in a while I’d catch a colleague’s eye from across the room and they would inevitably shake their head as if to say, “This is insane.”
At last the weird presentation on “Teacher Effectiveness” drew to a close and our principal, a decent and caring person if there ever was one, did her best to address and disperse the palpable distress in the room but to no avail. The truth, moreover, is that she too is in the crosshairs. The mood remained funereal and appropriately so. These were not people who were against “accountability, ” a word that along with “compliance” has taken on an almost sacred status in the Church of Corporate Education Reform. These were people who, like all people, wished simply to be treated fairly and with the dignity of their chosen and noble profession.
Slowly, as if recovering from shock, people drifted out of the big room. I watched them as they walked and knew what they were thinking because we were all thinking of variations on the same theme: “How did my union agree to this?” and “Who could sustain such a work load?” and “How long will it be before I’m fired?” and “How will I feed my kids ?”
I imagine the disembodied presentation was held in hundreds of schools across the city today to very much the same effect, which is to say, complete demoralization of the teaching staff.
It is impossible to conceive of any thing good coming out of any plan this joyless, this convoluted, this degrading, this a-human. But something will come, that is for certain.
Ours is a very vicious and violent hour.