A Teaching Reality Show: Paperwork vs. Priorities

kids_cusp2I have an idea for a reality television show.

Here’s the pitch…

We take state government officials (specifically the people who promote education reform and make laws regarding how to evaluate teacher effectiveness), and we place them in various classrooms across the country for the duration of one month.

During this four-week session of My Classroom (alt title: Pedagogical Survivor), participants must assess each student’s ability levels in reading, writing, and mathematics, and design a plan of action that ensures every child in the class will be successful at all times. (See the requirements for a rating of Highly Effective.)

Legislative contestants will be given a curriculum to guide them and textbook Teaching Editions to aid in their presentation of lessons. Each law-making contestant on My Classroom must spend the month in a school that is located in their own legislative district.

Here’s the catch…

camera and lights 270A panel of teachers who work in the legislative district get to select the school that will be the policy maker’s new home for the length of the show. This panel will evaluate the contestants as part of the show’s elimination process, and the evaluation criteria will be based on a specific rubric (to be designed with multiple domains and a numeric rating system, with input from the entire teaching force).

Contestants may end up in a school that has a textbook for each child…or one with none. They may find themselves in an urban or rural setting…or in a school that welcomes refugees in an ESL environment.

Maybe they will be lucky enough to wind up in a school like mine, with plenty of school supplies and a supportive parent community.

The one thing that each contestant can’t escape, however, is the paperwork and administrative portion of the event. Each must complete a multitude of administrative tasks in order not to be deemed ineffective and ultimately voted off the island. Or in this case, out of the classroom.

yellow files mag gl 270Legislative contestants will be asked to complete a small roomful of related paperwork in order to assign numeric percentages and values that will identify reading fluency, accuracy, comprehension, and reading rate, writing capability and grasp of mathematical ideas and concepts.

In addition, our scholastic survivors will be asked to familiarize themselves with some new curriculum, on which they will receive little or no training, and begin to prepare students who have no real keyboarding skills for a state-mandated, online assessment to measure their academic progress. (Whether this digitally gathered data will prove to be accurate and useful, or whether every school even has access to enough computers to fulfill the requirement, remains to be seen).

Stay tuned for the answers in future episodes of My Classroom, the ultimate reality in today’s public schools.

The real measure of my students’ progress

My student’s actual progress has very little to do with paperwork, state-mandated tests, or rubrics that assign me a number that rates my job performance.

The beginning of the school year is the time to evaluate where each child is academically, but that is only one piece of each individual little puzzle that makes up our classroom community. There’s no rubric or standardized test that is capable of measuring these unique benchmarks.

bigstock-Pupils-Doing-Art-In-Classroom-3915853When I close my classroom door and engage with my students, creating our custom classroom community from the ground up, my focus is on getting to know them academically, socially, and emotionally, so that I can help them get to know and appreciate themselves and each other.

When I close my classroom door, I am not focused on the 5-page reading assessments, one per student, that are almost due. I don’t think about the 3-page rubrics that accompany each child’s initial writing assessment. I almost forgot to do my state-required online T-Eval self-assessment (but don’t get me started on that topic again!)

When I close my classroom door, the escalating sounds of frustration, resentment, and exhaustion that I hear by the copy machine go away. I just get lost in my kids.

Inside our learning space

This year there are 21 members in our developing classroom community. Our learning space includes a cast of characters who will be spending approximately five hours a day with each other in a room with an area of approximately 600 square feet. This gives new meaning to the term close quarters as far as the workplace is concerned.

Each member of our upper elementary micro-community has special gifts, individual areas that need working on, both academically and emotionally, and a home life that affects their contribution to the community.

As a teacher, my job is to get to know my learners, plan meaningful lessons and activities, promote creativity and growth, maintain order, and do my best to foster a love of learning.

Paperwork devours hours

grading-papers-270There is a certain level of organization (and paperwork) involved in keeping track of my individual learner’s growth and progress. There are many I.E.P.s to familiarize myself with, and there is a need to maintain worthwhile records of student individuality and achievement.

As the years have gone by since my first days of teaching, however, the administrative functions of my job have multiplied exponentially. I need an administrative assistant. Heck, I need two administrative assistants.

Who is supposed to teach the kids while I’m completing all of the paperwork?

Learning beyond the spreadsheet

It is hard not to get frustrated with big government’s rules, regulations, and requirements, but when I close my classroom door and we settle in, I stop thinking about all that.

paper-clip-stat-2I think about what we’re learning and how we’re treating each other. I think about the kid who is clearly advanced in math and can’t stop tapping his pen incessantly or creating paperclip mini-statues while I am trying to teach a lesson.

I think about how I am going to get the quiet one who always chooses to sit in the far corner of the rug, but never misses a trick, to develop more self-confidence, or how I can help the angry one stop picking on classmates as I watch him losing more potential friendships among his peers.

Developing a healthy classroom community and really getting to know my kids is more important than a spreadsheet, and there are only so many hours in a day.

Less PD, more corporate intrusion

Administrative tasks are eating up the time I need to spend reading journals and reflecting. How do state and national tests measure the effects of this on my students?

DSP-MWimage-student-270If we are going to run education like a corporation, we need administrative positions (or at least yearly bonuses if you can manage all the paperwork AND help develop a love of learning in the kids at the same time).

It’s all just getting too big. I don’t have all the answers. I do wish the people who are making all the rules would step inside a classroom and see what it’s really all about.

I don’t want the frustration and feelings of helplessness I have at times to make me lose track of reality. I can’t let the big business of it all prevent me from taking care of our most important commodity…the kids.

So, what do I do when it all gets to be too much and I need to remind myself why I’m there?

I close My Classroom door. Together we are survivors.

Mary Tarashuk

Mary Tarashuk teaches 4th grade at Wilson Elementary School in Westfield, New Jersey. Mary has been an educator for over 20 years. She has served as content writer and creative consultant for the national, award-winning initiative The Walking Classroom since its inception in 2005. Mary’s work has been published in Education Digest and was honored with the SmartBrief Education 2016 Editors’ Choice Content Award. Trying to balance her old-school teaching style with New Age methods that integrate ever-changing technology keeps her on her toes. She believes that fresh air and exercise enhance learning and engage students of all ages. Follow her on Twitter @maryrightangle and check out her Kids on the Cusp page at Facebook.

5 Responses

  1. Rhonda Howard says:

    Thank you Mary. I feel like you know what teachers everywhere feel. I KNEW your last line before I read it – because the kids, the learning, the classroom community – that IS why we teach. You articulated our heavy cloud well.

    I love your game show idea. I would add: all contestants take the same tests students take, and all contestants subscribe to current educational publications to read in their free time. They will disseminate the information to their peers – in order to stay up-to-date on “current” best-practices and to develop their educational leadership skills. If contestants have extra time, they must enjoy it with friends and family – without giving in to the internal voice telling them what they SHOULD be doing; a teacher’s work is never done!

    • Thanks Rhonda. Here’s what’s ironic…when I actually close my classroom door, I can get Internet access to prepare the kids for PARCC…I guess we’ll just cross that bridge when we get to it!

  2. Kelli says:

    OMG! I love this! I have been pondering scenarios for a reality teacher show for years. I really believe it may be the only way many people will actually begin to realize the roles, responsibilities, and requirements we have as educators. I wonder if we have enough politicians that would actually participate in such a show?

  3. Thanks Kelli!…I would be more likely to vote for the ones that actually had the courage to be on the show!…for their willingness to see another perspective on education…and for the insight it would give them.

  4. Judith says:

    I’ve just come across your Facebook page and blog today, Mary. Boy have you written some great articles over the times and they so voice what so many teachers around the world are experiencing. The push for standardised testing and increasing loads of paper work is insidious and endemic (I’m in Australia).

    So many teachers say they could go into overwhelm, but because of their love of what is REAL teaching and working with young people, they keep swimming upstream, as you so eloquently described life for a teacher. I feel the need to add, but at what cost to themselves, their health and their relationships? What can we do to improve this?

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