Wherein I pause to consider why so many education initiatives SO frustrate me

by Mr. Sheehy

At one time or another I have grown passionately frustrated by a number of things in education. The implementation of the Charlotte Danielson framework for evaluating teachers, the development of student learning objectives (SLOs) in a very particular manner, data team cycles, Smarter Balance testing, and pacing guides all make the list of items I have had to mentally walk away from before I lost my cool.

I am convinced one reason that these ideas and priorities in education drive me crazy is that while all of them have been mandated for me to use or engage in, none of their implementation has been paired with familiarity with me or my classroom. SLOs will focus teachers on students’ learning and growth, helping guarantee the curriculum and holding the students accountable, so we all have to engage in that process. But what was wrong with what I was doing before someone decided SLOs were the only way to go, before we had to engage in data-team cycles, utilizing common summative assessments, adhering closely to particular pacing guides?

“Well,” a defender of these initiatives might reply to me, “we are not saying you need to change anything if what you were doing is great. We just want you to incorporate these methods into your way of doing it.”

Okay, but do you have any data that suggests my way was not working? Have you ever been in my classroom and seen what I do? Have you ever read my syllabus? Do you know how many students I have in my classes? Do you know how I relate to students–whether I’m quiet or loud, funny or serious, ironic or straightforward? Have you ever spoken to my former students? Have you ever asked me about how I teach writing? Have you ever looked at the kind of feedback I offer students on their writing assignments? Have you asked me why I arrange my desks the way I do? Why I ask students to read the books I have them read? Do you have any idea who I am?

I am an imperfect teacher. I am more than imperfect; on many days I would not even call myself good. I make a lot of mistakes and have a lot of room for improvement. Yet I have been at this for ten years and I have worked very hard to improve myself over that span. I have trouble with these initiatives, which fall upon me in a seemingly increasing volume, and one reason is they never seem to accompany any acknowledgement that I might have been doing something right. They are never paired with any understanding of what I have been trying to do. Whatever I was doing does not matter because someone discovered some research that says this is the way to do it. So even if what I was doing is interestingly similar but not quite the same, I am the one who has to adjust, who has to conform to the new initiative.

These ideas that drive me mad, that kick start fantasies of my going to law school, represent one-way initiatives. And with no one listening to me, I feel inclined to holler back in whatever direction the initiatives came from, to tell them what I think of them, since they don’t think of me at all.