Thursday, March 1, 2012

Pandora's Box and Publishing Value-Added Ratings

According to Greek mythology, once Pandora opened the box that Zeus had ordered her not to open, hate, disease, and evil escaped into the world.  Pandora, rightfully, was afraid of how Zeus would react to her disobeying his wishes, but Zeus knew that she would open the box and, therefore, did not punish Pandora. . . . 

Recently, teachers in New York were subjected to the same challenge that teachers in Los Angeles were - their names and value added ratings were published.  Naturally, this has inspired many responses, including a very well written one by Diane Ravitch for Education Week titled, How to Demoralize Teachers.

While I largely agree with those who are criticizing the decision, the purpose of this post is not to add to the growing number of articles either attacking or supporting that decision.  For one, I am not a public school teacher and will not attempt to fully understand how such a decision makes those serving in public schools feel.  Second, I will follow my own advice - when in doubt, go with your strengths.  Therefore, since I feel compelled out of a feeling of connection or brotherhood among educators, I offer these thoughts.

The names are out...and they are not going back in.  Arguing over whether it helps or hurts, whether it was right or wrong, or the real reasons for publishing them (I wonder if they sold more papers or online subscriptions that day) is, in many ways, a waste of time and energy.  The court decided it was legal.  It was done.

Now what?

Assuming you don't quit, the only option that has any chance of changing how the public feels (including your students, parents, the media, etc.) is for you to take an approach to your work that clearly demonstrates the following:
  • your class is not just your responsibility, it is your cause
  • you are committed to helping the student in front of you before being a steward of policy
  • you are passionate about helping students
  • you have a deep understanding of your subject matter
  • you are willing to learn from your mistakes
  • you are willing to allow your students to dare to do great work
  • you have high expectations not because it is dictated by policy, but because you respect the ability of each student to grow and achieve more than they thought  possible
Respect will not be won in the court room.  You will earn it through your daily interactions with your students, families, and colleagues - in the classroom.

I suspect that a large part of these events that is difficult for teachers is that many educators are probably like the ones I know, they are uncomfortable being the center of attention.  Not because they are trying to hide.  Rather, it is because they are very humble and would rather put the students at the center of attention.  Their work was never really about them.  It is about their students.

Even when circumstances make the work seem impossible, there is a driving force that motivates them to continue their cause and to strive to get better.  All teachers (public, private, independent, charter, etc.) feed on this force at some point.  In many ways it serves to bring us all together as educators.  Like a watering hole in the Serengeti, this force is often the one that sustains us all during the most difficult times.

. . . . Pandora, however, had not released every item from the box.  What remained was HOPE.  When she checked to see if the box was indeed empty, she released it to the world.
One hope may be that the publishing of the ratings will be looked back upon less as a "witch hunt" for bad teachers and more as a call for more educators to become "instructional linchpins."
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