It’s time for teachers to speak up (they have been.) It’s time for teachers to assert their expertise in knowing how children learn and how to deliver instruction to accomplish that learning (they have been.) It’s time for teachers to insist upon their expertise as content, learning, and child development experts that qualify them as the ones to determine what to teach and how to do it (they have been.)
It is also time for district leaders up to and including superintendents to stop telling teachers that they are not teaching the standards, their instruction does not align, they are not doing assessment properly or at the right time; time for these people to stop sending messages, explicitly and implicitly, that teachers are not up to the job of teaching, that they are unprepared to be in the classroom, and that teachers must be shown and forced to do their job the right way.
We call this gaslighting.
Long-time teachers watch superintendents, their regimes, and their programs come and go. Each new one starts their new improvement program, the latest and greatest thing that will finally get the lackluster district to the top of the pack in student achievement.
Yet, as their tenure ends, the new leader and regime comes along and questions everything that teachers are doing and yet, teachers are doing what the last people said was the correct way–every other way is wrong.
Once again, teachers are gaslighted as they are told nope, nope, nope, they have it all wrong and the new people really, really, really know how it should be done.
Eventually, like a Methodist congregation that doesn’t like the new preacher, teachers realize that eventually the superintendent and staff will move on. Wait it out and hope the next one is better.
The average tenure for an urban superintendent is about five years. The turn in fortunes usually comes about three years into the superintendency when the school board begins to turn a more critical eye upon the performance of the district.
But even under a new regime, the gaslighting goes on. How does this happen?
It starts by demanding that teachers have to write a standard on their whiteboard every day, word for word, leaving nothing out, because otherwise they won’t pay attention to what they are supposed to teach. Never mind the fact that many standards have numerous concepts involved and a lesson can only focus on one at a time, each and every word must be on that whiteboard.
It follows-up by saying that the standard is on the board, but the teacher’s lesson is not in alignment. The standard might say teach students the distance formula, but the lesson is on Pythagorean Theorem. But the distance formula is derived from the Pythagorean Theorem. The savvy teacher knows that the students in the room were advanced in mathematics during middle school, missed the course where the Pythagorean Theorem was taught, and that students now must learn it before they can understand what the distance formula is.
Oh, those learning arcs! Does that mean a teacher is free to remediate as needed or is constrained by district snarls that students already learned that and they should stop teaching it?
What is a learning arc? It means the vertical alignment of standards from year to year that build upon previous learning. Teachers are gaslighted when they are told the kids already know that when teachers have realized that they don’t.
Gaslighting goes on during professional development sessions. Teachers are told to stop choosing learning tasks because that is what children need to learn. They must unpack the standard to find out what learning tasks they should choose.
Do not match tasks to standards. And yet, in recent professional development sessions, principals were asked to do that very thing and then to take the exercise back to their teachers. Can you match the tasks to the standards?
It wasn’t easy. Gaslighting! Was the point of the exercise to make everyone feel stupid and they don’t know what they are supposed to do?
Gaslighting extends to assessment. Every lesson should end with some kind of assessment. But GOT asks why? Some lessons need more than one day. Hard concepts need multiple presentations, multiple work sessions, and multiple tasks until students pierce through to the understanding. Why assess after the first presentation? The students are not ready.
Understand that this is not a neutral process. Children do not have the maturity to realize that assessment is premature and the results are meaningless. They internalize their failure and shut down. Teaching and learning becomes much more difficult.
Gaslighting takes place because of the test score obsession of district leaders. All that matters is squeezing high scores out of our young. What happened to understanding the development stages that children pass through? Gone, forgotten, a school, scratch that, a district that gets the coveted A grade and the bragging rights that go with it, does not achieve that through utilizing the work of people like Piaget, Robertson, and Vygotsky to engage children in appropriate learning activities, but through endless test prep.
Gaslighting. You think this is normal, but it is not. Teachers are made to doubt themselves, but they should not. Parents are made to worry about how high the score will be, but they should not. It carries on by asserting that only the high upon high (hello, sixth floor!) knows. They do not.
It is time for the gaslighting in education to end.