How do you quantify an experience? Some things cannot be measured with any degree of accuracy and that is difficult for people who equate “quantify” and “verify” to understand.
I remember a nurse coming into my room after the birth of my daughter with a chart that depicted stick-figure faces that progressed from happy to severely pained. The faces were numbered 1-10. I was asked to point to the face that best represented my level of discomfort. Pain relief was offered when I indicated my pain was at a “7” face.
I laughed every time I was given this task because of how ridiculous it felt. My 7 could be someone else’s 10—someone else’s 4. My own 7 could be my own 4 had I been asked when I was less exhausted. Experience rooted in personal perspective and emotion cannot be assigned a number and then compared to others. The human experience cannot be normed. The most recent teacher evaluation system is much like the hospital’s pain-face chart. It is attempting to quantify an experience.
I know my daughter’s teacher is highly effective because my daughter comes home happy. She made friends and when she didn’t get along with someone, she learned how to handle those emotions. She asks questions about the world around her because a curiosity has been sparked. Her teacher did not simply deliver curriculum to the class. She shared 10 months of her life with them. She instilled empathy and trust. She turned the apprehension of kindergarten into excitement for first grade. To assign a number to the magic that happened in that classroom is just as silly to me as pointing to a pain-face.
I refused all APPR testing for my daughter, so I cannot tell you if she is a 1 or a 4. However, I can tell you that yesterday, for the first time, she read a book from cover to cover and didn’t miss a word. We were on our way home from the book store where she picked out Knufflebunny, by Mo Willems. She also picked out Watch Me Throw the Ball, also by Mo Willems, because she “loves the author.” Because of her teacher, my five year old has a favorite author. What number effectiveness is that?
I listened to her read Knufflebunny while driving home. I heard her read “laundromat” and then quickly confess that she used the picture to help her. I heard her correct her “b” sound to a “d” sound when the word didn’t make sense. I heard the long silence between page turns while she studied the illustrations–appreciating the marriage of narration and art. I heard evidence of effective teaching in that silence because it meant my daughter had learned to love the multi-dimensional experience of reading.
Teaching is an art to be appreciated for its depth and ability to inspire in ways as unique as each child. I am thankful for my daughter’s teacher and the many others like her that continue to provide meaningful experiences for the children in their charge, even when the pressure is to simply deliver curriculum. Every day their instruction is driven by insight and instinct honed by years in the classroom, even when the pressure is to drive with data. To all of these teachers, may you have a restful summer to recuperate after a trying year. You cannot waiver in your resolution to protect the art of teaching from being transformed into the act of relaying information. Do not close your classroom door and wait for the tide to turn. Cast off your ridiculous numbers and unite. Use this summer to internalize the fact that you deserve respect. You are intelligent professionals, and for that you are strong. You are compassionate artists, and for that you are greatly appreciated.