I have never been a highly effective teacher.
Some of my students have called me a great teacher, while others have said I can’t manage a classroom. Some of my students have cursed me out on a daily basis, but I have never been a highly effective teacher in terms of my formal observations. Teachers get evaluated by administrators based on the effectiveness of how they teach, which has ramifications for your career advancement and salary. In my school district, we use a scale of 1 to 4: 1 means you’re ineffective, 2 means you’re developing, 3 means you’re effective, and 4 means your highly effective.
I was never highly effective until today.
On my most recent formal observation during virtual learning, I scored mostly highly effective.
Any teacher can tell you how much you grow from your first year to your second year, but I fell into a typical teaching trap during my first year: the dog and pony show. A dog and pony show is a pejorative term for when a teacher puts on a show when someone else walks into a classroom, as if the teacher were on stage and trying to impress someone. You incorporate activities like Socratic Seminars and chalk talks you don’t normally do to look good.
My first year, I had good reason to try the dog and pony show.
I couldn’t manage a classroom.
Every day, it was a disaster.
There were books and markers all over the floor.
Some students bullied other students.
Some days, no one in class learned anything.
In short, I was a terrible teacher. I was an ineffective teacher, and I certainly deserved ineffective scores for how my classroom ran on a daily basis. I was letting my students down. I was letting my school down. The only positive part about my teaching was that I had great individual relationships with my students and I showed up to work every day.
But never in life had I felt so incompetent as my first year of teaching. Never had I felt so weak.
My second year is awfully different. For one, I’m at a different school since my school closed last year. This year, due to COVID-19, we’re also started virtually, which is challenging in a lot of ways, but not in classroom management. During virtual learning, I didn’t deal with any challenging behaviors, despite dealing with behaviors like fights and profanity on a daily basis my first year.
Throughout my first year, I would score 1, 2, and 3s. It would average out to be a 2, and I suspect my administrators did know I was putting on a show. My students would simply behave better when the principal was in the room so it was different from a normal lesson regardless. I would emphasize student-student interaction and tasks I wouldn’t normally use on a given day.
I remember losing respect for a teacher that expressed a lack of interest in his job my sophomore year of high school. He just made us read the textbook all period long. But when he was being observed by his content lead, he would make sure we all understood, have a very interactive lesson, and facilitate discussion to build a collaborative classroom environment. He could obviously teach well and make sure we learned a lot — he just didn’t do so every day.
It was easy to judge this teacher until I became that teacher. And my scores weren’t great — they were just what I needed to slide by and keep my job. I knew it could have been ineffective and I could have lost my job.
And then this year came around with virtual learning and my second year of observations. I prepared pretty thoroughly for my evaluation, as I always do, but then I realized something:
No matter how my classroom was going, I was done with the dog and pony show.
It would be a disservice to myself.
It would be a disservice to my students.
Not to mention that it would have been bad if a student said: “Mr. Fan, we don’t do this every day.”
And so I learned a valuable lesson that puts my students first and their education first: routine matters. Consistency matters. Instead of putting on a show where I would aim to hit what I thought administrators wanted to see, I would do what we did every day. It’s a boss’s job to find something wrong with your performance so you can improve.
This year, we did what we did every day, even if it wasn’t what my boss wanted to see. I valued consistency and my kids more than I valued my observation. The scores didn’t matter to me as much as they used to — I worried more about the lesson being authentic. If I had radio silence for several minutes, like I do every day, I would live with it until someone participated.
Doing what I did every day paid off — the dog and pony show did not.
. . .
For New Year’s Resolutions, I’ve tried them all. I tried to be more athletic. I tried to be more confident. I wanted more friends. In 2018, I tried to be more vulnerable, which was the resolution I was proudest of and actually achieved. And I succeeded and reshaped and deepened my friendships significantly.
But this year, I have no New Year’s Resolutions, because all things considered, in the middle of a pandemic, in the middle of one of the most tumultuous times in human history, sometimes boring is better. Sometimes what you do every day on a consistent and sustainable basis is much better than trying to put on a show and facade of improvement.
Not making a New Year’s Resolution is also healthy because, according to Chloe Anagnos at Fast Company, resolutions are often unattainable, and are more for show than for change.
I’m not saying there isn’t a way all of us can grow and improve.
We can probably be kinder.
We can probably be more confident.
We can probably fight more for an equitable society.
We can probably be better communicators with our loved ones.
But most of us are neglecting that for all things considered, we’re doing the best we can just the way we go through the motions. Reaching and trying to put on a show is only going to hurt us, and the people around us. It’s not authentic. It’s not sustainable. Even if who you are right now is not perfect, it’s an accurate picture and reflection of ways you can genuinely improve.
This new year, after an unprecedentedly difficult year, maybe just surviving, just maintaining, just going forward day by day is enough. Maybe that’s the best way we can naturally improve, because who we are right now is good enough.
This post was previously published on Mind Cafe.
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