“This Nigga’s Crazy!”
My Life as an NYC Teacher
Chapter Twenty-Eight: Why Teacher Evaluations Cannot Be Based on Student Performance: Exhibit A
There is a big push to make supposedly “objective” student performance data the main ingredient in teacher evaluations – 40% of the evaluation is the number they keep throwing around. That’s the number, of course, so that the pundits can claim that that it “isn’t even half” of the evaluation. No doubt the 40% number was cooked up by the P.R. people as a way to get it in the door on the way to a future “tier” where nothing else matters but the numbers – the hubcap teacher.
On the face of it, it seems reasonable. A good teacher’s students ought to perform well; a bad teacher’s students ought to perform poorly. It seems cut and dried. Just look at how the students are doing and fire the teachers accordingly. I won’t go into the divide and conquer ruse being used now wherein significant sums of money are dangled in front of “highly effective” teachers, that is, teachers deemed “highly effective” by the very people dividing and conquering.
If teachers were making hubcaps, then it would be reasonable. Just look at the performance of a particular teacher’s hubcaps on the standardized tests, fire the teacher making the dented hubcaps and replace him/her with a freshly minted hubcap teacher, preferably one young, inexperienced, malleable and coming into the contract under a new tier that gives the principal the right to fire them at will – not to mention reduced wages and benefits. For the CEO of the city hubcap company, it’s a dream come true.
Kids, of course, are not hubcaps. Some are well dented but it mostly is not the teacher(s) who dented them and in many cases it will take a counselor, psychologist, psychoanalyst, surgeon, preacher or prison guard to hammer out the dent. Exhibit A: I once taught a student entering the 9th grade for the 3rd or 4th time – it was hard to say since this student had spent “x” number years out of the school system altogether, showing up only enough to stay enrolled or perhaps to gain some city or state benefits. Which cohort was he in? Which cohort should he have been in? Who knows? What was known was that this new “freshman” was eighteen years old – how fresh, I ask, was he? His chronological cohort had already graduated from high school while he was still festering in the 9th grade with 2 credits accumulated in those 3 or 4 or 5 years of “studying” for the standardized tests he had no chance of passing.
It turned out that he was a fresh enough freshman to make his teachers uncomfortable. Administrators were joyous when he finally started attending school regularly. Attendance, like unprepared students sitting for state tests, is good for the school's overall objective data. Teachers who had to “teach” this “student”, on the other hand, were not so joyous. Unfortunately, I was one of them.
Fortunately, this student was in my last period class and so I only occasionally saw him. This, of course, was going to be bad for my objective data since he wasn’t going to be passing the class and certainly wasn’t going to be prepared for any state tests. It was good, however, for the working students in the class since on those occasions when he did show up, he absorbed an inordinate amount of time through class disruptions and attempts on my part to take disciplinary action against him. He was literally stealing the education of those students who came to work but couldn’t because of his behavior.
When I started hearing stories of touching, fondling, and sitting on laps from other teachers, I became very uncomfortable and was even more glad that this student wasn’t regularly attending my class. When I heard that he had exposed himself to the other students in the room, however, I went straight to the dean’s office to find out what action they were taking. Writing such an incident up for detention or suspension, however, didn’t seem to fit the crime. This, after all, was an adult male exposing himself to underage children.
It so happened that NYPD was stationed in the building every day. The school was considered an “Impact School” because of crime levels within the building and in the neighborhood. These crimes included smuggling 12 pounds of pot into the building – I wonder which category of “evaluation data” this falls under. Another student set fire to one of the boy’s bathrooms – his teachers are to be evaluated accordingly.
Once I heard the easily identifiable sounds of a fight breaking out in the next room. I immediately attempted to bar the door but it is impossible for one teacher to block two entrances. That rumble, as it turned out, was between a student and an adult friend and aunt of another student - both females. These two people had entered the building on the pretext of a parent teacher meeting but had instead marched to the designated room – they knew where they were going – intruded on the class and proceeded to exact revenge for some altercation that had taken place outside the building the previous day. Fortunately NYPD was quickly on the scene. That teacher will be evaluated in part on the behavior and performance of the original assailant.
In any case, hearing the story of this student of mine exposing himself to my students, I asked the first police office I found if it wasn’t a criminal offense for an adult male to expose himself to 14 and 15-year-old children. He said that, indeed, it was and went to look into it. The student was taken in handcuffs from the building. No charges were pressed, however, and this adult male “student” was back in the classroom with his underage “peers" within a week. At least he had been warned that any further physical contact between him and the children in his classroom would be taken seriously, whatever that meant.
It must not have meant much because the behavior continued. I told the deans that I would write up even the slightest incident but was told not to bother. Minor incidents like throwing things in the classroom, cutting class, leaving early, talking loudly during lessons, insubordination of all types – these wouldn’t do them any good. They needed an eyewitness to an actual crime – child molestation. Anything short of that wasn’t good enough.
Eventually it happened in front of me. The adult student grabbed the arm of a 14-year-old girl. When I told him not to touch her, he grabbed her shoulder. When I told him again, he began rubbing her head, at which point the girl pushed him away and I wrote down the incident on a referral form. At the end of the day I wrote a detailed description of the incident for the purpose of getting the adult male 9th grade “student” arrested and removed from contact with children altogether – and by the way, this story is as good an example of the need for social promotion as I’ve ever seen. This adult ought to have been programmed with his true peers – seniors – even though he had accumulated only 2 credits by the age of 18. Credits or no credits, passing or not, learning or not, literate or not, you can’t place an adult in a high school classroom with 14-year-old children or a 16-year-old in a middle school classroom with 12-year-olds. (See Chapter: The Need for Social Promotion.)
This student would have dropped out of school rather than be forced to sit in classrooms with his true peers. It would have been better for every child in that school if this student had dropped out. Another student dropping out would have negatively affected the school evaluation data, however, and so the school was desperate to keep him on the roster. Administrators bent over backwards to pretend that this student wasn’t the monster that all of his teachers saw. One administrator even admitted to me that [the administrator] would not be alone in a room with this adult “student” for fear of what the “student” might claim. The administrator would meet with this adult student only with a witness in the room. Nevertheless, it was in the interest of the school to keep this adult 9th grader on the roster both because the school budget is determined by enrollment and because the attendance of this student was relatively good. (Although he often missed his first and last couple of classes, the policy in NYC schools is to count a student “present” if the student is in the building during the official attendance period or for 3 of the 9 or 10 periods of the school day – See Chapter: Kamikaze, Part 4 – Teaching the Present and Unaccounted for.)
Here is the kind of data that ought to be collected and it has nothing to do with grades or scores. It is very difficult to quantify but it has everything to do with the success or failure of classrooms, teachers, schools and the high-functioning students who are the focus of this book. This particular adult 9th grader cost an average of 5 minutes of class time every time he showed up. This is my estimate. There were times when he sat relatively quietly and other times when I had to waste 15 minutes of class time while writing up incidents such as his screaming, “Suck my dick!” across the room. In talking to other teachers of this adult student, I would estimate that the student cost about that amount of time on average in every one of his classes.
Nine times 5 is 45. That’s a full class period every time this student spent the school day in school. I’m not talking about time that this Freedom Writer psycho wasted for himself. He was not in school to learn. I am talking about the time he stole from the students in the room who wanted to work but had to sit idle as their teachers tried to discipline this student. On average this single student took away a full period of instruction and study EVERY DAY for each of the working students in the class.
In terms of student hours, multiply by the 25 other students usually present in the room – there were 35 or 36 on the roster most weeks. This adult student stole 25 class periods a day in terms of student hours. That works out to 125 lost classes per week – student study hours lost to this single individual and he wasn’t the only one in the room costing the good students time and study. Many of those students needed that time to learn. Although I cannot quantify it specifically, I know that some students failed because of this time lost. It may have been as many as half a dozen students who could have learned enough to pass if not for this adult 9th grader. This meaningful data is not being collected, let alone analyzed and factored into school or teacher effectiveness.
The result of this misguided reliance on “objective test-related data” and inhuman school evaluation data was an adult child molester sitting in a classroom full of underage kids. Without the advice of an attorney, I cannot relate the outcome of this particular “exhibit A”. People outside the system who think that it is perfectly reasonable to look at student performance and make assumptions about the “effectiveness” of the teachers need to spend some time with actual New York City teachers. As a classroom teacher, it was my responsibility to do everything I could in order to get this adult student into the classroom and teach him. My responsibility, in other words, was to expose innocent children to an adult with illicit motives who had no intention of learning anything and had proven that over a number of years. My responsibility was to lure with phone calls, conferences and hand-shake deals an adult 9th grader into a room of (mostly) unsuspecting children, an adult who was going to do nothing but negatively impact the “objective data” on which I am to be evaluated under some new “objective” evaluation formula. Maybe I ought to have called this chapter “Kamikaze, Part 8”.
Lest you think this is just a teacher blaming students or an isolated incident that would be too rare to affect the outcome of the statistical analysis of a teacher’s objective data based on student performance, stay tuned for many more “exhibits” from my lengthy catalogue of outrageous student behavior – behavior that the politicians, poobahs and pundits proclaim is the responsibility of the teacher.
NOTE: This blog contains an excerpt of the first draft of this book.