“Your line looks so nice” “Your line is so straight.” The hallway of the elementary school is a parade ground for teachers. Under the watchful gaze of administration, guests and colleagues, teachers march their classes up and down the hall and they are judged.
The above video is of my students from last year walking to class from breakfast. You might think this video shows improvement or, that students worked very hard and finally learned how to walk in a line. The problem is you would be wrong. The first section of the video was shot on one day. The second part the next day. There is only one difference. My use of performance specific praise.
Is the line straighter? Do students demonstrate more muscular control? Do I sound like I am in charge? Yes, but there are other consequenses. This straight line requires enourmous effort on my part and my students. It also takes three times as long to walk from point A to point B which cuts into our learning time in the classroom which is the point. Isn’t it?
Much of the respect afforded a colleague inside an elementary school is based on several inconsequential factors. How your students walk down the hall. What you display on a bulletin board. How your students behave in assemblies. The funny thing is none of these situations has to do with learning, yet this is how we judge and are judged. The basis of these judgments is an either or condition. Are you in control? Are you in control of your class? Do students stand up straight, put their finger on their lips, walk in a straight line? Most of all are they quiet?
My students are not quiet in the hall. As a preschool teacher I am the first teacher many students have. I must set the tone.
When a class is taking a test you don’t want to disturb the students. This is important but, does not happen every day.
As an artist I am drawn to questioning, civil disobedience, and a playful sense of learning. Why should the condition of a good teacher be control? What if our basis for judgment is learning. Are your students learning in your classroom. Are your students learning in the hallway. In some struggling schools fifth grade classes have begun to post weekly test scores outside of their classroom. These scores are presented in a graph that compares class to class and the numbers of students passing as compared to failing. This causes another judgment. Are you in control of your test scores?
I decided I wanted to be judged by the quality of my students learning and the best available way to do this was to become a National Board Certified Teacher. (NBCT) I know there are detractors from this process but, it is better than being judged by how straight my line is.
Image: J.M. Holland (Slide use CC with credit)