I don’t want to make more out of this than I should, but in this case, meeting a student outside of school reminded me of one of the reasons I “retired” early–a badly designed one size fits (none but the elite few???) evaluation system.
No, not because of this student, named D (not real name, of course). D was a sweet, emotional, moody, respectful, goofy, and very needy student when she was in my class my last year of teaching full time.
Fine. I like a challenge, and I like kids. I chose to be a literacy teacher/ specialist at the secondary level, and that means working with kids who have struggled a lot with school. They get me instead of a fun class or instead of an elective. This means they often acted out, since they didn’t have the maturity to realize acting out did not get them out of class. It took much art, much patience, much creativity, and much compassion for me to develop good working relationships so they would try to “do school” and not act out in class (so much) or disengage in class.
And I was used to getting a lot of challenging students all in one class. Some years, if I had a particularly challenging group, I would often go home exhausted to the point of bone weary.
But for many years, that was fine and we who chose this path were thanked. Admin understood our classes might not be quiet like the AP or Honors classes. Admin understood part of our job was to work the magic of relationships and understanding and compassion. Admin understood that many of our students were not intrinsically motivated in classes they didn’t want to be in or actively hated being in.
(Side note: One year, during my evaluation for tenure I had a student go wild, explode after he received some devastating news. My great admin understood this can happen, especially with adolescents challenged with many outside problems. I got tenure and I was praised for handling this very difficult situation in a professional and compassionate manner. The admin was able to use his/ her discretion, assess the situation, and became involved in helping the student and his family after he/ she learned about the issues.)
But that is another story.)
D had been labeled as a handful, a trouble maker, but I found her quick to anger, quick to forgive, quick to cry, but always a young person who would go out of her way to say hello, even shouting across campus. That’s not always true with teens, and I took it as a good sign.
But during one evaluation on Day 2 of 2, D was having a hard time, crying in class, whispering, etc. I dealt with it, I thought, in a manner that let me continue to teach without anyone losing face, without shaming anyone. It was an active class and we were doing a lot of moving and talking in the room anyway, and come on. They were 14, 15 years old… sophomores in high school. I felt I dealt with it very well, and expected to hear that. The day before, D had been on task completely and helping out in class by passing back papers, etc. But this day 2? She was having a hard time.
But using the Danielson framework, it was an awful class allegedly. D and the other 14 years old did not self correct. I needed to gently guide them. Gently guiding did not result in D miraculously gaining self control and becoming a self-actualized student at that moment. I was dinged on this eval.
Whatever. Just another reason to retire under this ridiculous one-size-fits-all system. Admin had to use the system, and the system was wrong, in my opinion, for it tried to standardize what good teaching should always look like. Kids are not standardized. Teachers are not standardized. Yet admin had to use this tool, this evaluation “model” where one size would perhaps fit college instructors or instructors of highly motivated students. I don’t blame admin. They had no leeway.
# # #
Later that month, I had to miss two weeks of class, the first time ever in my long teaching career. I had minor surgery and the recovery was longer than expected.
When I returned, there was a vase with some lovely simple carnations in them, no note.
Oh, my boss said to me, they are from D. She’s been here every day looking for you.
D? D, the one who cost me a ding in my evaluation, which–if I had been staying–could have cost me a rating and could have been very serious. No matter that the year before D had to be escorted sometimes by admin because of her behaviors in class. No matter what, the rubric had to be followed. No exceptions.
D, the student who the year before had to have someone from the Dean’s office sit with her often so she would “behave” in class. D made so much progress behavior wise, academically, and personally in just the school year I’d know her.
I will never forget her smiling face as she yelled across the hall, “She’s back!” I won’t forget you, D, but I had to leave.
D brought me flowers.
# # #
I met a former colleague for a late lunch the other day, and there working at the restaurant, seating guests, supervising other staff members, was D. Her braces were gone. Her hair was pulled back in a sleek style and she was confident, smiling, and efficient.
She had grown up.
It was great to see her and reconnect for a few moments.
Oh, did I ever tell D she hurt me on my evaluation?
Absolutely not. I believe it would not only have been unprofessional to do so, but it would have also shamed a young lady for no reason. I knew the class well, knew the students, knew how to run the class. I would not have changed what I did.
It this case, it was a ridiculous system imposed on me, an individual, with my own style and with unique kids in each class, kids who sometimes seemed to change from day to day as they navigated issues.
So no, I would not hurt a young person because a system was unfair and inappropriate to impose on all educators.
But it sure made me remember why I left early.
Not the kids. Never the kids.
And even after all this time, I am not over it, for teaching is so difficult, so time consuming, and so personal that it’s not okay, in my opinion, to do this to teachers. It is not okay to simply fill out a rubric, and the details be damned.
And I am a good teacher, very hard working, dedicated, educated well, and compassionate and respectful with students.
So a blog post that should have been about D becomes about me and how sad, angry, and burned out I still am. All those 60-90 hour work weeks truly exhausted me.
But I would still be there full time, working until I could no longer do so, if we didn’t develop this blame the teacher and one size fits all and not being appreciated for the tough job we do very well at times.
It’s just not okay to do this, but it is how it was.