There's Always a Flip-side

One thing we forget, so often, is that there's always a flip-side.   When you think one way, someone else thinks another.  Experience and culture play a significant role in how and what we believe.  We bring this (our culture and beliefs) with us wherever we go, and it impacts us. 

People that hunt have a very different feeling about guns than people that have had a family member murdered by gun violence.  

As you read Ed Blog, pt. 24: 5 Things in 5 Days, keep the following example in mind, and it will help you understand where I'm coming from: My brother and I have both been told we slam car doors*.    

On separate occasions, in separate states, we've had multiple people complain about the way we exit a car.  Apparently, in the opinion of others, we close doors too hard.  We slam the door.  When we've stepped out of an uber or friend's car, they've given us a look like, What are you doing? 

Our response: making sure your door is shut. 

We grew up in the same house, with the same parents.  We were always told to make sure the car door was shut.  Nearly every time we got out of a car, we were asked this question: did you make sure the door was shut?  It was a big deal.  If a door wasn't shut, the interior light would be left on and the car battery could die.  This could result in being late or missing an appointment.  Making sure a door was closed properly was important, leaving it ajar was a problem; so, for us, it was better to close a door with a little extra force than it was to leave it open.  'Slamming' was much preferred to not closing the door properly.  Thus, through reinforcement, we err on the side of 'too hard' because a 'soft' close could inconvenience someone. 

But even the terms 'slam' and 'soft' in this context need definition.  I would define 'slam' as an intentional act that uses excessive, intentional force.  And I certainly don't do that.  I simply make sure the door is closed, which - apparently - others consider slamming.  The culture we grew up with goes directly against the culture that other people grew up with, which leads to different values and definitions.  

This matters.

This extends to every area of life - and teaching.  The important thing is to have a dialogue about the issues at hand, and listen to people that think differently than you do.  If you don't, you judge them as insufficient, when really you are simply unaware of their starting point.  Stopping conversations before they start, or worse - judging before you discuss, leads to problems and barriers that need not exist. 

Why this matters is that things that are normal to you could be an inconvenience to others.  Things you naturally bring to the table, may be insulting others, and knowing this, and acknowledging this can save a lot of time and pain.  For instance:

  • Some people view sarcasm as a form of humor; others view it as a lie.
  • Some people say, "If you're on time, you're late"; others think being 10-minutes 'late' is on time - and curteous.  
  • Some people think wearing a hat in a building is extremely disrespectful; others consider a hat a big part of an outfit and fashion.  
  • Some people think saying what's on your mind is helpful and honest; others think it is blunt and disrespectful.  

Wherever you stand on any of these types of issues, you must remember that other people think differently because of their culture.  If we could go to understand instead of judge, we'd all get along better, and our classes would benefit.  

I worked at a school that had students from 80 different countries.  One evening a year, they'd have an International Night that highlighted the different cultures of students.  Each culture would put on a show of some kind, highlighting celebrations in their home countries.  Some people would bring food, and most would dress in the clothing of their home country.  The night was always great.  When I'd come to school the next day, I had such a bigger, better understanding of the students in my class and teachers in the building.  It opened me.  That's what diversity does.  

Ways that this really effects someone, though, is when you don't have common terms and language, you can get into very unhelpful situations.  Two examples:

  1. One principal I had thought his job was to listen to any parent, any time.  This meant a parent could have a 'conflict' with a teacher, run from the teacher's room, and talk directly with the principal.  They could be angry and ranting, and do so to the person at the top of the power structure.  This helped no one.  It also made the angry parent's narrative the starting point, rather than the actual thing/event/occurrence.  Often, when a follow up meeting would occur, after the parent had calmed down, the parent realized the incident was simply a misunderstanding.  It was errant information from an adolescent, and the actual problem was fixed easily.  The problem was the principal.  His belief that everyone needed to be heard, immediately and with emotion, caused a lot of problems in his school.  He then judged his teachers based upon what he heard through angry responses of parents.  His 'culture' told him you had to hear people out.  Several others, though, mine included, says you don't speak in anger.  You wait it out, and talk when cooler heads prevail.  This led to a lot of problems that need never have happened.  
  2. I heard of a place that accepts students anytime.  So if they walk in, they can be enrolled.  One teacher signs up anyone for any class, at any time.  She does this because she thinks it is helpful.  One of her coworkers - working in a different program, at a different location - asks that any student seeking enrollment in his class, after class hours, be referred to the next class period.  He does this because he prefers enrolling the students himself.  The coworker doesn't honor this request, and continually enrolls students at any time.  She does this because she cannot turn people away.  Her personal culture leads her to believe that 'denying' a person entrance in the immediate present denies their access to future education.  In the other teacher's mind, this couldn't be further form the truth.  The other teacher prefers to enroll students himself, because it allows him to get to know the students, show them the process of class, and make sure they're registered according to the classes process and routine.  So, she judges him as unhelpful, never asking why he prefers this method.  In her mind, he's being rude; in his mind, the way she does it is unhelpful.  With no dialogue, people slip through the cracks.

These situations can be difficult, because they come with tension.  This is tension, though, we must live with.  You don't have to agree with someone to respect the fact that they have an opinion, and come with their own prior thoughts and beliefs.  We all do.  Keeping this in mind will help us educate all students.  It will also broaden our understanding of what school is. 

Just remember, there is always a flip-side.  


I've had the same conversation with two different people in two different schools districts, in two different states.  They'd each been in their respective job/district for about 15-years.  What they said (paraphrased) was this, "The old guys used to tell me, 'just wait, it'll all come around'.  And then I noticed that what I'm hearing now is about the same thing I heard my first year of teaching, just in a different package."  

What they meant, reduced down like a delicious sauce, is this: students need to learn the same things they've always needed to learn, but a lot of people get paid a lot of money to pretend this is not the case.  So old things are packaged in a new format, and the same dumb people buy in, thinking they're hearing something brilliant and new, not realizing they're only hearing this because they didn't get the message the first time. 

Here are some 'new' things in education (with their old counterpart); google search them, if you do not know it:

  • Guided-highlighted reading (underlining what's important)
  • Cornell Notes (taking notes, writing definitions, and summarizing)
  • Sustained Silent Reading (reading silently, by yourself)
  • Differentiated Instruction (not teaching everything the same way; see: getting to know your students) 
  • Think-Pair-Share (talking about something you learned)

What's hilarious is that many adults sit in meetings hearing these things thinking that the revolution is coming. 


Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic are still very important and still make up the core of everything we learn.  What and how we read and write changes, and thinking is more important than ever.  People come along, trying to reinvent the wheel.  They give a new fancy buzzword to an old term.  People buy in, missing the entire point.  Instead, we should focus on doing what works, well, and improving that thing - regardless of what it's called. 


Rubrics are a great example of educational bullshit.  They have a value, no doubt, but that value is this: setting expectations for an assignment and providing a shared language for talking about outcomes.  Many dumbasses think that this means they are fair, and that grading is fair, but they miss this important fact: rubrics are not impartial. 

When we pretend they are, we neglect the reason for needing them in the first place. We've all (probably) had it where we received a grade that was lower than what we expected.  When we inquired as to why, we were told we didn't meet the requirements. In our mind, we disagree.  While rubrics do give a shared language for this, a teacher that cannot communicate requirements clearly has some work to do in the profession.  

Proponents of rubrics as the ending point for equity miss the entire fucking point that a rubric is not impartial; it if filled out by a person that has just as much bias and agenda as someone that doesn't have a rubric.  Three of the least competent people I've met in education have said this exact phrase, "It's not me.  I just filled in the rubric."  

In some cases, a rubric becomes simply a legal way to fuck someone over.  

In my first year of teaching, I had a very advanced writing class.  I offered students the option of a rubric ("impartial") or teacher based grading.  I warned, as I always do, that the rubric will be harder than I will be.  I'm a softy, so I err on generosity.  But I had rubrics at the ready because, beyond a certain point, the debate of a grade is a stupid argument, and one I was unwilling to have.  If a student wanted, they could use the rubric.  The thing people forget is this: Teachers create the rubrics they use for a given assignment.  (If they don't - which is the case of The Three Incompetents - the rubric is at best ineffective and at worst unethical.)  This means they know the rubric when they grade.  A grade is often explained in the comments.  

Rubric can sometimes actually be negative.  The reason this is so is because they don't allow for trial and error.  In the case of the class mentioned above, I'd introduced the - and ( ) to the class, and one of the students really liked trying to use ( )'s.  The thing he neglected was that (he used them for essential information).  Which made sentences read how I just wrote that last one.  This is errant use of the language, and could be considered at the bottom of a rubric's scale.  But if he tries and errs and then receives a failing grade, I essentially stifled his voice, which was the opposite of the class's intent.  Instead, I marked it a little bit down, encouraged his creativity, and taught the difference between essential and inessential information.  (A win for both of us.)  

When you're a teacher, you're making a judgement call anytime it comes to grades.  Unless the rubric is 'yes' or 'no', there is room for debate.  What's the difference between a 1 - 2 - or 3?  The truth: it depends on the teacher.  Some teacher's 3 is another teacher's 1.  It's all a judgement.  

So I'm not blaming rubrics.  In some cases they're very helpful.  They're also a very good example of how creativity in teaching has turned to mass boredom and incompetence.  They are not an end-all.  I'm simply warning against anyone that suggests a rubric is impartial.  When we make this mistake, we can hurt actual people.  


Probably nowhere is the impartiality of a rubric quite as evident as when it comes to teacher evaluations.  Teacher evaluations are about as equitable as a Baptist Sermon - and probably just as dangerous.  A Baptist sermon promises hell, but at least provides a way to avoid it; in the teacher evaluation, it depends upon the "preacher".  

I would never have thought this to be the case - and it wasn't really until school districts went to the rubric - that two dumbasses could wreck a career.  But that's what happened to me, and it's happened to several other people as well.  Incompetent administrators come in, trained on the rubric and use it gradeteachers.     

The problem is: An evaluation is only as good as the person doing the evaluation.  That is precisely why I spent so much time early in this series writing about how it starts at the top.  (If you think you live in a bad school district - you have a shitty superintendent, shitty principals, and a shitty school board.  The people who will tell you different are probably the people in those positions of power.)  

Using the same form to grade every teacher, at every level, in every subject should immediately raise red flag.  (It's actually about the same, in terms of equity, as using a questionnaire to settle a court case.)  Good teaching does not look the same every day.  It does not use the same methods every day.  And there are days it will look boring.  An in-depth, very involved deep-dive into law consists of some class periods of studying just the facts of what a law is.  You must also learn the history and practice.  After you know the fundamentals, then you can apply.  Teaching will look different every day.  That is not bad.  If everything was exactly the same, every day, that would raise a whole different set of questions.  Depending on the subject and the content, there will be lectures, note taking, reading, watching, and role play.  This is good teaching.

This is where the evaluation is itself the problem.  (Pretty ironically), with the rise of buzz words, professional development, and educational consultants tackling the problems in the school system, parts of teaching have become taboo.  Lecturing is considered the worst form of teaching.  This is in the midst of a society that puts extremely high price tags on the lecture circuit.  Meaning, something major happens or someone has knowledge or wrote a book, and they make a ton of money touring the country lecturing about it.  It also overlooks that millions of people attend weekly services for lectures.  It overlooks that many people learn a ton from audio - look at the rise of the podcast.  In the place of a direct lecture, the current thing receiving all the praise is 'collaborative learning'.  This means students 'work together' to 'discover' new information.  The same people that believe in the buzz word of the day neglect to mention that 'collaboration' is only as good as the collaborators.  So it's possible that a very collaborative class can be very, very wrong on an issue.  This is because good teaching looks different every day, which brings me back to the evaluation.  

The teacher - the same person doing all the instruction, planning, and day-to-day of the class - would be evaluated differently for each part of the teaching (of a unit, class, assignment, etc.), as based on 'the rubric'.  They'd be considered minimally effective on the note-taking day, but highly effective when students are doing the entity of the interaction.  The rubric has no room or use for actual teaching.  It simply is a list of 22-76 things that are marked graded and used to determine a teacher's effectiveness.  Three classes represent an entire school year.

Think on that.  It's fucked up.  What it means is that, depending upon the day the evaluator decides to observe a class, an evaluation - possibly a teaching career - changes*. 

The most popular evaluative tool currently in use is The Danielson Model.  (It's worth a read if you care about this sort of thing.  There's a lot more to look at with it as well.  But it highlights all the ways our system sucks.  A woman, Charlotte Danielson, thinks we need a better evaluative tool.  She puts a lot of time and energy into getting a good one.  It ends up in the hands of the same dumbasses that have been fucking up the educational system for decades, and now the thing she created is (or to be fair, can be) part of the problem: 

When any tool gets in the hand of the wrong person, it's dangerous.  A hammer can be used to build an orphanage or to crush a skull.  A rope can be used save a drowning person or to hang someone.  It all depends on who's using the tool.  In evaluations, a lot of administrators are using them wrong.  I had four different people evaluate me using the Danielson Rubric.  Each one of them said this line, "I just fill in this rubric."  And that's a major part of the problem.  If, as a teacher, I said that same this exact same thing to a parent, the administrator would mark me down for doing so. 

The first evaluator couldn't spell, and had terrible grammar.  I had to help him actually fill the rubric out.  I was fine with it, because he was also the only one that had a suggestion for how to 'improve'.  The second two principals - the two people that got me fired - had a cumulative total of zero advice.  I asked each of them directly how I could improve.  I asked the second evaluator this question, "You marked me down in (insert area), how do you suggest I improve?" He had nothing.  I asked the third person the same question.  She told me to talk to someone else.  

This is a major problem.  None of the four evaluators had ever taught a day of traditional high school. None were familiar with the subject I taught.  When each of them walked in, they had zero scope of the lesson, unit, or time of the school year.  This is a problem.  We're losing good teachers to incompetent administrators using a bad device to be impartial.  Charlotte Danielson realized teachers needed a better evaluative model.  The same people that were doing it badly for years now use her model badly.  Often, it's promoted through educational consultants.  

We need good teachers, maybe now more than ever.  But teachers - good, competent teachers - are leaving the profession in droves.  We have to take so much shit, that it's becoming not worth it.  Evaluations may be the starting point of this.  People that work their asses off every day, getting more and more piled on them by the administration, taking the blame when students 'perform poorly', are then used as the scapegoat for low test scores.  

It's unethical.  It's fucked up.  But it's happening everywhere.  

*Before the 'impartial evaluation', this wasn't the case.  There used to be a form, a checklist, that was a guide. It had some version of satisfactory, along with an option for - above, below, or does not apply.  This allowed an evaluator to use the snapshot they were observing to represent the whole.  What students were doing in a class on a particular day didn't matter as much as how they were doing it.  Were they respectful, listening, engaged?  When an incident arose and the teacher intervened, did the students respond with respect of defiance?  Was the teacher collected or angry?  How was the interaction between students in the class?  Between the teacher and the students in the class?  This is observable at all times.  

With the current system, it doesn't happen.  One hilarious example happened in the State of Our Schools Address given by the superintendent of the Grand Rapids Public Schools.  In her address, she used a particular teacher in a particular school to show how good the schools were doing.  She highlighted the growth from this teacher' classroom.  You'd think this would be a good thing; but, the teacher, through the 'evaluation' was considered: minimally effective.  If he didn't have tenure, he'd have been fired. 

Educational Consultants

Educational consultants are an extreme waste of money.  School districts spend a thousand dollars a day - adding to millions a year - to bring in someone to tell them what is wrong with their schools.  They often do nothing to follow through.  They also could have avoided all of this by listening to students, parents, and teachers.  Educational Consultants don't work for the same reason that child support doesn't make up for the actual love and attention from a parent.  

Throwing money at a problem, without addressing the root need and cause, does nothing to fix that problem.  In some ways, it makes it worse.  In the worst case of child support, a parent gives a lot of money to provide for their child(ren); through this act, the parent believes they are filling the needs of the child(ren).  What the child(ren) wants is love and attention, to matter, and for a positive presence to be in their life.  If someone doesn't get this, they won't be a good parent. 

This is exactly how it goes in a school.  When there is a deficiency, you cannot simply throw a lot of money at the problem.  If you do, the problem will not change and you'll simply have less money to fix that problem.  Rather, you must look at the cause of the problem, dissect the cause, and make a change from there.  

Ironically, a consultant often has almost the opposite incentives from the school district.  It's better for the consultant, the more problems they find.  The more negative they are, the better for them, financially.  The more suggestions they have, the more money they make. 

This sucks.  

True change needs to come from competent people that care and can do something about it.  In almost any school, you'll find a group of people willing to do this for free.  They'll look into how to help, how to train, and how take an active role in doing so.  Why not use that?  

There is obviously a time to ask questions and seek advice, but if this comes through taxpayer's dollars, and goes to someone that has an incentive to extend a problem rather than fix it, you've only got more problems.  Using this person as a crutch is not the answer.  At best it's a bandaid.