On pedagogy… sorta

original-1Kind of pointlessly meandering about on the interwubs right now, looking for something interesting enough to talk about.  I used to be really, really good at this game; my previous long-term foray into blogging was basically all about looking around on the Internet until I found something that pissed me off and then ranting about it until I ran out of steam. Granted, it was the Bush years; I was easier to piss off back then, but that model really doesn’t work very well for me anymore.  I can’t remember the last time a blog post on this blog was a result of finding an article online, unless it was (as will be happening later this week, possibly as early as tomorrow) me finding a topic I wanted to emulate, rather than argue against.  What entertains me most about this is that just within the last week I’ve been referred to in comments as both “irascible” and, I believe, a “sadistic fucktard,” both by people who meant them affectionately– and that’s on the blog where, by comparison with previous work, I’m nice all the time.

I’m off from regular job tomorrow morning, because I have another probation assistance team meeting– that’s the thing where I’m working with (and, supposedly, helping) a teacher who has been placed on probation for one reason or another.  We’re drawing close to the end of the process at this point; it’s not supposed to run for longer than 100 days and can end at 40; this will be the 40-day meeting.  I don’t expect us to arrive at an answer (and by “an answer,” I mean “this probation process is terminated” or “you are terminated”) tomorrow, so there will be at least two more half-days out of my classroom in the next few weeks, one to observe again and one to have another summative meeting.  I don’t remember if I blogged about the last time I observed this teacher or not, but what’s frustrating about the whole process is that this person is teaching their(*) classes more or less exactly in the way the corporation wants– it’s just that don’t find that method terribly effective.

This puts me in a weird position.  In terms of teaching “by the book,” so to speak, this teacher is actually miles ahead of me– they’re doing things that I’m supposed to be doing in my room, but never do, because I either find them ineffective in general or have not personally ever been able to make them work.  But I’m still a more effective teacher.  I know this intuitively and I suspect that I could prove it if necessary; my numbers on the state assessments that are supposedly used to evaluate us are really, really good, and if their numbers match mine then they probably shouldn’t be on probation.

What makes it weird is giving advice on how the class should be run on an instructional level– I’m kinda forced to say “do it this way” when in fact I don’t do it that way, and in fact I kinda think doing it that way sucks sometimes, but when we’re in a position of having to rebuild this person’s pedagogy from the ground up, maybe we shouldn’t be trying to rock the boat too much.

The other weird thing was that at the last meeting everyone but me had seen a classroom that was in total chaos.  I didn’t see that, and that’s not just my lens for viewing instruction being calibrated differently from anyone else.  I’m confident that anyone who had walked into that room the first day I was there– and, frankly, the second day I was there as well– would see a classroom that was at the very least being managed adequately.  Classroom management isn’t everything, at least not under most circumstances, and it certainly isn’t teaching, but without classroom management you generally can’t teach effectively.  That’s sort of another problem with this process– we’re supposed to be evaluating teaching, not classroom management, but it’s tough to see through the weeds sometimes.  I just went through my own notes and deleted a bunch of stuff that I didn’t ultimately think was relevant to what we’re supposed to be looking for before sending it in to the committee chair– that’s not to say that it wasn’t important to making this person a better teacher, it’s just not exactly what I’m supposed to be looking for.

Gah.  Am I even making any sense here?  I’m powerfully ambivalent about this entire process, if that’s not obvious, and it makes it hard to write about.  We’ll see how tomorrow goes, I guess.

(* The last time I talked about this, I played the gender-neutral pronoun game throughout and it ended up hurting my brain; this time I’m just using plurals the whole way through.  Screw grammar.)

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Luther M. Siler

Teacher, writer of words, and local curmudgeon. Enthusiastically profane. Occasionally hostile.

5 thoughts on “On pedagogy… sorta

  1. I don’t know about over there, but over here the entire establishment of education has been taken over by fresh-out-of-the-oven specialists pushing their newest research and guidelines onto those who have been in the business for years and have worked out what works best via practical evaluation. They are, of course, backed by the higher-ups, who are concerned more with money and fitting with national standards for progressiveness than the practical aspect; meanwhile the administration is spurred to keep up with the newest batch of documentation, going so far as being told to never mind the other concerns just so the school can look good on the end-of-the-year assessment.

    Teaching has become an industry these days, and as any industry in the capitalist world, it’s full of senseless regulations and inconsistencies. We live in an interesting time.


  2. Not sure which “corporation” you work for, but two great books on pedagogy (yours) are “Finding Freedom in the Classroom” and …. can’t think of the name of the other but I’ll post it later. (It’s out of print, but you can find it in libraries, some of them… (used to teach)


  3. The chapter “Christopher Columbus” from How to Survive in Your Native Land by James Herndon. (I should add that although the examples in Finding Freedom are largely based on work in English/writing classes, some high school and some college, they apply across disciplines.)


  4. You presented a very interesting set of circumstances. The first reaction that comes to my mind is you suffer from a raging bout of cognitive dissonance. It seems like a lot of people in certain industries like education,medical, legal have to constantly battle cognitive dissonance, because they know the system they support is broken in a number of critical ways.

    I think we need to be honest with ourselves. If we encounter cognitive dissonance, we need to resolve that contradiction. We have to fix the brokenness of our situation and in your situation it seems like you probably need to get a different type of job.

    Of course I am just an asshole on the internet so don’t listen to me. But yeah quit the job because it’s silly, probational teaching/while currently teaching, grading teachers, grading something that you don’t really care about, having solutions to the problem but remaining silent for fear that your better methods would what? Get your fired? Improve the place? That’s really the big threat isn’t it? Good forbid you actually share your superior skills in the classroom! God forbid we have success in the classroom!

    The systems seemed designed to promote mediocrity. You have to talk about your observation subject in a detached non-personal way, when the real problem probably is psychological and existential. You have to fix the person, but you’re not a therapist dammit you’re a professional!


  5. A responsible and tricky position. My response differs from the one above. You are clearly an impassioned and good teacher. Could you not, in the meetings, actually say what you have posted on this blog? What you know and have found through experience is that personal teaching style can vary extraordinarily and what matters is how the kids respond. The highest criteria, within sane, safe limits, should be what works. Good luck.


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