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Peter Greene @palan57

Peter Greene @palan57

Peter Greene has been a classroom teacher of secondary English for thirty-many years. He lives and works in a small town in northwestern Pennsylvania where he plays ni a town band, works in community theater, and writes for the local paper.

Posted by on in Professional Development

Man, it can really stink to be a young person contemplating teaching these days. It's not just that so much of the news about the profession, or that states are crying about shortages while districts say they're not hiring, or that so much security is being stripped, or that so many layers of crap have been dropped on the classroom, or that poverty has become so widespread in the nation, or that looking closely at our institutions reveals embedded layers of racism and classism, or that education has so few attackers and so few supporters, or even that so many old farts will tell you, "For the love of God, young'uns-- don't go into teaching! It's a terrible idea!"

First, I want to apologize on behalf of Old Farts everywhere. We should really knock it off with delivering Discouraging Words, which are at best annoying and at worst disrespectful, as if Kids These Days are incapable of making their own career choices.

Second, I want to be clear that I teach in a rural, small town setting where we are not very wealthy, but don't have the heartbreaking level of poverty found in some parts of the country. There are hundreds of thousands of teachers who have a much harder job than mine.

There are many reasons to stay away from classrooms these days. Lack of resources, but an excess of blame. Low levels of pay, but high levels of disrespect. Large challenges to overcome, but tiny tools with which to tackle them. Many people who want to tell you what to do, but few people who want to actually help you do it. And when you start to peel back the educational onion, layers of institutionalized racism, classism, and decisions driven by politics, greed, power-- everything except the needs of the children.

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Posted by on in Common Core Standards

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Recently on multiple platforms, Robert Pondiscio talked about reading on his way to standing up for Secretary of Education John King. We disagree about his praise of King for making all the correct word noises, but he's made a point worth repeating about the improvement of reading.

Every teacher of low-income children and English language learners  has had this moment: You’re sitting with a student, working line by line  through a text, grappling with what should be fairly simple  comprehension questions.

“Did you read it?” you ask. “I read it,” the child replies. “But I didn’t get it.”

This is what reading failure often looks like in a struggling school.  A child can read the words on a page in front of him, but he can’t  always make sense of them.

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Posted by on in Assessment

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One of the holy grails of ed reform is comparability. The aim is a score or grade or rating that allows us to say definitively that Hypothetical High School is a better school than Imaginary Academy, that Pat O'Furniture teaching third grade in Iowa is a better teacher that Teachy McTeacherson teaching tenth grade Spanish in Maine.

But we're also looking for evaluations that provide useful information, and there's one of the major problems in the evaluation world these days.

The more comparable a measure is, the less useful it is.

Comparable measures must be reductive. In order to compare the elementary teacher in Iowa and the language teacher in Maine, we have to reduce the measure to elements that both teachers possess. This means that the measure must be simple, and it must ignore most of what makes each teacher unique.

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Posted by on in Professional Development

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Teacher evaluation, aka accountability, continues to be a topic of wideranging debate. On the one hand, we have lots of folks who call for teacher "accountability." On the other hand, Race to the Top and the state waiver programs gave us systems of teacher evaluation that are spectacularly dysfunctional and conceptually stupid (how well some eighth graders do on a single, bad reading test should determine how good the shop teacher is?). And on the third hand, the new education law (ESSA) gives each state a chance to come up with new ways to make a hash of the whole business.

Critics (and I'm one of them) have said repeatedly that value-added measures and test-based ratings and a few other stupid things that have been tried are, in fact, stupid, destructive and bad for everybody. Supporters of the accountability movement have replied, "Fine then. What do you want to do instead?"

Okay, then. How do we get on the path to a useful method of teacher evaluation? Step one is to figure out what purpose the evaluation will serve. This may seem obvious. It isn't. Here are some of the goals that a teacher evaluation system might try to meet.

<b>To find bad teachers. </b>For a while, this was the focus-- we would find all the Bad Teachers and fire them, and then life would be swell. This remains the focus of attacks on tenure and seniority; we  plan to cut your budget to the point that you have to fire people, and we want to be sure you fire the right ones. The bad ones.

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Posted by on in General

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Humans come out of the womb predisposed to believe in One Right Answer, and some of us spend our whole lives searching for it.

I watch my students (mostly high school juniors) struggle with it. There's supposed to be One Right Answer for which college to pick, which career to pursue, which partner to marry. One beloved fantasy has persisted for all the decades I have taught (and my years as a student before that). "I wish," says a student, "that somebody would just appear and tell me what I'm supposed to do. I wish somebody would tell me what the right answer is."

Growing up, I believed in One Right Answer even as I didn't. Like many fifteen-year-old, I believed that many of the right answers proposed by The People In Charge were wrong-- and that I knew what the One Right Answer really was. I went to college and learned there were two kinds of English professors-- those who believed that there was one way to read each work, and their job was to teach us what it was, and those who believed that there were many right answers, and their job was to teach us how to find an answer that could be argued successfully with evidence and sense. I decided I wanted to be the second kind.

I still thought there was One Right Answer to most of life's questions, and that was a belief that I rode right through marriage and into divorce, plus any number of other major and minor screw-ups. I believed that the way to navigate life was to lock the steering wheel in place and set a brick on the gas pedal, and if you hit a tree or drove off a cliff, that just meant you needed to recalibrate the steering wheel and get a different-sized brick.

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