There has been a fundamental shift in the teaching profession over the last ten years or so. Previously, the focus was mostly on what the adults did. Now the focus is primarily on what the students are doing. Ten years ago, teachers went to college, entered schools of education, took the classes, passed the tests, got jobs, went to workshops, and generally did what they were supposed to do. Nowadays, it doesn’t much matter whether or not you went to a school of education. Nor does it matter whether you go to any workshops. What matters now are results: measurable indications of student learning. Everything else is just…everything else.
Like most teachers, I had trouble adjusting to this change. I was in denial. When No Child Left Behind passed I chalked it up to something ridiculous coming out of a Republican administration. It would soon blow over, letting us go back to doing what we did before. I denied the fact that it was actually a bipartisan bill, supported by many lawmakers who had traditionally been strong backers of teachers and their unions. “This is Bush’s law,” I thought, “and as soon as he’s gone, it’ll go away.”
But Bush is gone and NCLB isn’t. Not only that, but the new administration, the one the teachers’ union helped elect, came in with a vision of public education that is just as focused on student learning as the previous administration. If not more so.
My reaction, like that of many teachers, was anger. How can anyone expect the same results from a classroom of poverty as from a classroom of affluence? Why isn’t it enough for a teacher to put in an honest day’s work and let the results speak for themselves? If I plan engaging lessons, execute them with precision, and score my students’ work with specific feedback, what more can anyone ask of me? If the students – and their parents – don’t do their part, while I do mine, how can I alone be held accountable?
There’s obviously a lot of merit to this argument. And a lot of educators will go to their retirement making this argument. But it’s not an argument they’ll win. The fact of the matter is, there are teachers who are motivating the “unmotivated.” There are schools that work in places where they “shouldn’t.” As long as that’s true – and it is – teachers will be expected to teach anyone, anywhere; with teaching defined in terms of student learning.
We tried bargaining. We tried electing lawmakers with a traditional, anti-reform view of education. We’re still trying that. But the change that’s coming is still coming. We might be able to defeat this teacher evaluation bill here or that charter bill over there, but if you look at the big picture, education reform is moving forward, not backward. Teacher evaluation is becoming more results-oriented; not less, and the number of charter schools is increasing, not decreasing. Most importantly, the number of major political parties that support education reform has gone from one to two. Bargaining to delay or reverse education reform is a lost cause. A more productive approach would be to negotiate a more sophisticated way of measuring student achievement.
Like it or not, things are moving along. I’ve known this for at least a year. I haven’t been particularly happy about it. I’ve even been depressed from time to time. Why shouldn’t I be? I work my butt off and no one seems to care.
What matters is whether or not my students learn.
And that’s something I’m ready to accept. In this day and age, results matter. What I do, in and of itself, doesn’t. And that’s not going to change.