My Life as an NYC Teacher
Chapter 63: Pair Share Snare
One of the latest trends in the new teacher evaluation system is to emphasize student-to-student interaction. I have been advised by principals and supervisors to take myself out of the learning process in the classroom as much as possible, to make the class student-centered, to forget about the old-fashioned idea that the teacher is in the room so that students can learn from the teacher.
How quaint that idea seems nowadays - that the teacher teaches. How quaint and yet here we are in a new era of the one-room schoolhouse with students of all levels sitting together and the expectation that the teacher can differentiate a lesson enough to cover them all - although the standardized tests differentiate NOT AT ALL.
When the Danielson evaluator enters a classroom now, the person expects to see two things: 1) high level, "rigorous" DOK questioning from the teacher; 2) the teacher stepping out of the picture while students engage in accountable talk among themselves.
As for the first, "rigorous" is as relative as it is subjective. What is rigorous for one is too simplistic for some and completely opaque for others. Which group is being evaluated in a classroom where differentiation is taking place? Only the classroom teacher who is working with those students day in and day out knows this. An evaluator cannot make that judgement based on a single observation, much less on a 15 minute learning walk. (The only thing that can be learned in a "learning walk" is that nothing can be learned in a learning walk.)
As for the second, I'll discuss the absurdity before pointing out the insidiousness of it. There is one educated person in a room with 20 or 30 students hoping to educate themselves. The teacher knows what the student needs to know. The teacher knows how to impart what the students need to learn. The teacher knows how to stay on task in spite of myriad distractions.
But current wisdom has this one educated person taking him/herself out of the equation. Current educational reform demands that the teacher stand down, so to speak, in the midst of battle while students talk to each other, something that once might have been called the blind leading the blind. In most cases the students have only 45 minutes with the expert and yet current wisdom wants to reduce those 45 minutes as much as possible. They are demanding that the educator take education out of the classroom. What educator can honestly do that?
Current wisdom justifies this absurd state of affairs by claiming that students today simply cannot learn by traditional methods. They must be engaged and the way to engage them is to get them talking about the subject whether or not they know anything about it. How much, after all, can be gleaned from a 10 or 15 minute mini-lesson even by the best and brightest? Yet better that students engage in their own conversation than that the instructor insert his/her wisdom, learning, knowledge, experience, expertise. Full group discussion with the teacher? Sure fire ineffective.
But there is, after all, a rationale for this absurd approach, an insidious one and insidious in two ways. First is that the hope for these student conversations is that the top third will elevate the bottom third. Like everything else in current education reform, the new evaluation system is aimed directly at the bottom third. In order to increase graduation rates, the bottom third must be brought up. In order to show "progress" in the data, the bottom third must be brought up. In other words, in order for education reform to appear to be successful, the bottom third must show progress.
But this happens only at the expense of the top third. The top third are those high functioning students who desperately need and want to learn from their teacher, not from their peers. They have little to gain academically from their peers. These are the best and the brightest and these are the very children who are being sacrificed in the name of educational reform. They're being used by the educational reformers. Administrators who insist that their teachers remove themselves from their classroom activities are doing a great disservice to those very students who can and should be college ready. Teachers who go along with it in order to keep their jobs are doing the same.
Second, this is insidious because it pretends that the teacher is not the vital cog in the classroom that he/she has always been. If the students can learn with a minimum of interference from the educator, what is the point of having an educator in the room at all? Education reform now denigrates and devalues the teacher and, of course, the reason for that is obvious. They want to reduce the teaching profession to low level, minimum wage work. They want to "disappear" the influence and inspiration of the teacher like a dictator who drops his enemies from helicopters into the ocean. Teachers who go along with this pair share snare are helping put the stake through their own hearts.
And so what we now have as a result of billions of dollars spent on education reform is an educational system in which administrators are just petty bureaucrats doing their jobs and earning their inflated salaries. Teachers write lengthy lesson plans to ensure that they do very little teaching, but spend valuable class time making sure kids are talking about whatever they know and mediating classroom disputes through "restorative justice." Meanwhile among those wanting to be educated the blind go on leading the blind and those who can see have nothing to look at.