In response to an earlier post that asked whether schools improve by attacking teachers, this reader offers advice based on her experience in Nevada:
Schools don’t improve if you attack teachers, or threaten them, or harass them, or fire them, or just hound them out of the profession! Schools only improve with appropriate professional development training in ‘best practices,’ with a shared belief system, and a common and well defined goal. Rather than ‘getting rid of’ teachers who don’t fit the mold or the school culture, you achieve cohesiveness by showing positive results. Just like the children we teach, teachers need to want to learn, want to achieve similar results, and trust their professional colleagues enough to ask for help.
That paragraph contains about ten years of experience and observation, and requires a lot of explanation.
I teach in Nevada. Nevada school districts encompass the entire county, – 17 counties, 17 school districts. There are three major population centers, each in a different county, – Las Vegas in Clark County, Reno in Washoe County, and Carson City in Douglas County. The rest of the state is rural. I teach in Nye County. Geographically, Nye County is the third largest county in the United States, after the Borough of Barrow, Alaska, and San Bernardino County, California. From Duckwater’s one-room schoolhouse in the northern county, and Gabbs K-12 schools also in the northern county, to the town of Pahrump with four elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school in a town of 30,000 people is a good six to seven hour drive. About eleven years ago, my position at Gabbs Elementary was cut, and I transferred to Manse Elementary in Pahrump.
My first day on the job was a teacher work day. The school had been struggling for two years to come to terms with NCLB, and was a needs improvement school. They had also changed principals twice, and had about 40 percent of their teachers retire or move out of the district. On that teacher work day, a group came from the state to ‘help’ our struggling school, and the first words the first person said were “We can fire all of you!”. I don’t remember anything else anyone in that group said, and they talked, harangued and cast blame all day long. I remember being angry, and tearful, and distrustful of my colleagues. I also remember thinking that the needs improvement status was based on standardized tests given to 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students, and that an entire grade level had moved on to middle school, and that I was new at that school, and that I could be much better employed getting my first grade classroom ready for the students.
I had been in the military, and that experience taught me never to identify a problem unless I could also propose a solution. That group from the state had no proposed solution to the problem. And, honestly, I feel that the core problem is NCLB! Giving anyone only one way to succeed and 37 ways to fail is just wrong! Any teacher, parent, clergyman, psychologist, coach or sensible person could tell you that!
My school and district have been working on the problems ever since. I have received training, gone to conferences, had professional development, and done a lot of personal research and independent reading. I feel I’m a much better teacher, and getting better all the time!
One of the best things my school does is called Instructional Consultation. That is where one knowledgable teacher with a puzzling and struggling student asks for help, and another knowledgable teacher helps identify the reason the child is struggling, and together they arrive at a better instructional match for the child. We also have Professional Learning Community groups at our school, and that has greatly improved communication among teachers, and between grade levels.
I’ve also become very informed about my teacher’s union membership, and the master contract that covers union and non-union people in the bargaining unit in this right-to-work state. That group from the state could never have fired any of us, and could only have recommended a transfer if they could specifically identify a teacher as being responsible for a failure in one of those 37 sub categories. Their bullying tactics were not only poor motivation for improvement, but they were based on wrong information.
So my solution for NCLB, simply stated, is support the teachers who teach the children who take the tests. Give the teachers the tools and training they need to do their job, and then get out of their way and off their backs while they do it. Threats, intimidation, bullying, personal and professional attacks, – those don’t work!