It Takes A Village

A colleague reminded me this week that we all have people in our circle who watch over us. She referred to the support system as a village, which has left me thinking.

In the world of teaching, we often feel isolated. It sounds funny, that a unit of like-minded people could work together, yet separately, and feel lonely. After all, we have little people all around us and we work with a large number of adults. However, the reality is that we have little time for personal social interaction.

Some people are perfectly happy being alone. I am not.

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My favorite time period of teaching was the 13 years that I team taught. My co-teacher and I worked like a finely tuned machine. Her strengths were my weaknesses and mine were hers. We complimented each other. We worked primarily in the portable classrooms, just outside of the school building, and renamed it the Learning Cottage. We created our own village. We all loved it out there. It was like a little 2-room schoolhouse that included 40 children. Quite honestly, it was at the highlight of my teaching.

We weren’t made to live in isolation. Even wolves travel in packs. I think we were designed to be part of like-minded groups. Those units shift and change, but I believe that I am a better me when I am around loyal people with like-goals, who sincerely want to be with me.

We live in a naturally competitive society and I am not competitive in any way shape or form. I don’t want to ever draw attention to myself. I don’t like confrontation. I want to blend in. I am a team player, and have very high expectations for myself and others within my small village.

I am faithful to a fault, and sometimes I get burned because I am so trusting. Sometimes in a pack, wolves turn on the old and the fragile. I am not old, but I’ll admit that I am fragile. Sometimes it takes my whole village to keep me moving forward. I am so thankful for them.

A small Gift Card is often left in my school mailbox to help with groceries. I am so thankful for the anonymous villager who is quietly watching over me. It helps to ward off the loneliness. You’d be surprised at how many times that card has pushed us through- the exact amount needed to get us to the next paycheck. Whoever you are, I pray that you are reading this. I am so thankful for your commitment to making me feel cared for.

Our world has become much smaller as my favorite man forgets people he rarely sees. I find it interesting that he talks about people as we pass by their homes. However, if those same people pop into our house, he often doesn’t know who they are. He is lonely, but he doesn’t want to see people. It’s too scary because they know him and he doesn’t know them. (If I think about it, if a stranger showed up insisting he knew me and I didn’t recognize him, I would be terrified and I wouldn’t want to let him in.) We don’t travel very far or for very long. It’s too scary. This means that our short outings are predictable, and generally places where he won’t run into anyone.

A few years ago, I shared our dilemma with our pastor. His response: if people (the village) don’t come to me, then I (because he won’t go) need to go to the village. The snag is that I am needed at home as soon as school is over. My guy paces and waits for me by the window every afternoon, waiting for my return.

So, to the faithful members of my small village: you know who you are, THANK YOU. You give me strength, encouragement, and talk me off the ledge when my nerves seem like they cannot withstand one more obstacle.

Today I am thankful for the sweet moments that I get to share with my favorite man and that I am not alone.

May the members of our individual villages be patient in tribulation, bless those who persecute us, and abhor evil. My prayer is that everyone is a part of a intimate village that lifts and encourages one another no matter what the time and the hour. May we use our individual gifts to strengthen each another. Together may we all rejoice in hope, cleave to what is good, and always display love. May we not go through the motions, but instead, be a wise and cheerful blessing. (Romans 12)

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What Keeps Me Awake At Night

I woke up early this morning. I didn’t need to, but after 8 days of school, my body has morphed into school time. School time means that no mater how hard I try, my body refuses to be fooled into going back to sleep.

This morning my mind was filled with goal setting: Marshall Goals, Student Learning Objectives (SLO’s) and what I should make for priorities this year. I don’t know why my brain decided that 6:30 am on a Saturday, was a great time to make such crucial decisions.

In case you have a burning desire to know, our district uses the Kim Marshall Plan which includes an evaluation system based on teacher performance. It is divided into six categories, or domains. The domains include (1) Planning and Preparation for Learning (2) Classroom Management (3) Delivery of Instruction/Monitoring (4) Assessment, and Follow-Up (5) Family and Community Outreach and (6) Professional Responsibilities. Each domain contains 10 standards, in which supervisors rate teachers as Highly Effective, Effective, Partially Effective, or Ineffective for a total of about 60 standards. In theory, each domain, gives teachers and supervisors an opportunity to look at performance and set goals to focus on. Marshall’s rubrics are meant to clearly define criteria to distinguish the Highly Effective teacher from the Ineffective one, and all points in-between. Administrators aim to do 10, 10-minute pop-ins, with a coinciding 10 minute post observation to document progress on a teacher’s chosen goal. Last year, I had 5 classroom observations totaling 50 minutes.

On top of the Marshall goal, teachers are also expected to choose 2 Student Learning Objectives (SLO’s) that are used to target growth and measure student effectiveness. Teachers are expected to make two SMART SLO goals (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Time Bound) that can measured using data points that are proven reliable.

All lesson plans need to align to Common Core Standards and reporting is done on-line by individual standards. So, not only are teachers being evaluated on an insane amount of standards, but so are children. Most importantly, teacher evaluations are directly linked to the academic success of ALL students.

For both teacher’s and student’s alike, a 4 point scoring system is used. A 4, or Highly Effective status is reserved for truly outstanding performance that meets very demanding criteria very few ratings are in this area. A 3, or Effective status describes solid, expected, professional performance. A 2, or Improvement Necessary indicates that performance has real deficiencies. A 1, or Does Not Meet, is unacceptable and can lead to dismissal unless improved on immediately.

The Marshall Model in particular is not designed to be an “I got ya'” model. However, teachers are perfectionists. They want what constitutes and A and therefore, accept suggestions and generally respond to gentle correction. However, in the world of Marshall Goals, and SLO’s, with 100% of our students expected to meet high demands, many teachers are left feeling deflated.

Fear should not be consuming me at 6:30 am after the second week of school. I know what my strengths are and what my weaknesses are. I know that I am a Highly Effective teacher and nobody can convince me that less than 2 hours of cumulative observations gives my employers a clear picture of what is happening in my classroom and enough information to fairly score me on 60 standards. Although the rubric is designed to create self-reflection, supervisors make the final scoring decisions. This means that my self reflections can be trumped by their perception of what is happening in my classroom. I do have the right to challenge final decisions by showing data. However, they don’t have to provide data that supports their perception of my performance. That is hard for highly sensitive, Type A perfectionists like me.

It used to be that I would leave school for summer vacation feeling like my supervisors noticed and appreciated the dedication and student achievement that was attained. I don’t feel that way any more. Honestly, if I had known 30 years ago what I know now about the evaluation systems for both teachers and students, I think I would have chosen another profession, and that makes me sad, because I truly love what I do and I know in my heart of hearts that I am good at it.

People say that in educations, the pendulum swings from one extreme to another. I wonder when the pendulum is going to swing again, because things need to change. Teachers should not have sleepless nights worrying about end of year evaluation results after the first 2 weeks of school. I’m not sure how, but we need to stand up and demand change. It is time. edweek-pendulum