Thursday, August 09, 2012

IQMS, OFSTED... a rose by any other name...

Doesn't matter what you call it, teacher and school evaluation is stressful. STRESSFUL! Because teachers work on their own so much, having someone else come into their classroom and watch them is stressful. Knowing that that person is also evaluating you - deliberately looking at your strengths and weaknesses - is doubly so.

Over the years, teacher evaluation has become a bit of a buzz word, a promise of a means to an end, a way to fix what is wrong with the education system. (No matter what country you're from, the average Joe on your street will tell you that your education system is failing, that schools are worse now than they used to be, that it's all going to hell in a bucket.) Is that necessarily true though?

One of the tricks that has been used in recent years is to link teacher evaluation to pay. In every other sector, your performance at work is already linked to your pay. If you don't perform, you don't get paid - as much, your bonus, or at all. Those performance indicators are the all-important grail which you aspire to reaching. You have to make X number of sales. You have to produce X number of units of whatever you're manufacturing. You have to publish X number of articles per year.

Teachers have, for the vast majority of the time, been exempt from this. Once you're in, you're in, and it's nigh on impossible to be fired unless you commit murder, or embark on a relationship with a pupil.

In SA, in many schools, or so the rumours go (and I see no reason to discount them), teachers sit in the staff room all day, or arrive drunk, and there are no consequences. Pupils don't bother coming to school because they know they won't get taught. It is in this context that teacher evaluation being linked to pay is being discussed.

How do you force those who aren't doing their jobs to do so? Firing them won't work, because where will you find new teachers in a country that simply isn't producing enough high quality graduates? It would be better by far to get them to do the job they were trained for, to help them improve, to work with them to improve the quality of education. I believe this is what is at the heart of the move to link teacher pay to evaluation. Of course, the very teachers this is aimed at helping have jumped up and down and screamed injustice - or rather, their unions have. After all, it is much nicer to sit around drinking tea (or booze) all day and getting paid for it, than actually having to get off your butt and earn your salary.

For teachers who are doing their jobs though, teacher evaluation seems like such a waste of time. It's window dressing. It's providing evidence of what we already know.

And yet, it is so stressful never the less. Having your weaknesses see the light of day in black and white is not pretty, nor is it easy. For this reason, many teachers don't take the evaluation seriously. When they are observing their peers, they gloss over the weaknesses, they focus on the strengths. They would rather not cause offence, or pain, and so don't use it to really help that teacher develop. One lesson during the year we nip into someone else's lesson, make a few notes about what they're doing, and then all the forms go into a folder, where they sit until the following year. A few numbers are crunched, and we all get our increases, as normal.

Which leads me to wonder, again, at the value of this exercise.

Thus, it was with a measure of great surprise that I read this article. I guess, as with all things, implementation is the key. The question is, how do we go about changing the mind-set of our teachers, to see this as a positive experience, a learning experience, and neither a waste of time nor a terrifying obstacle?

Some broken things can't be fixed

The saying goes that you shouldn't fix something if it ain't broke. However, sometimes, even when something is broken, you still can't fix it.

I'm usually very professional at work - I keep my mouth shut when I'm supposed to, even when I don't want to. I can think on my feet and improvise when I need to. I am respectful for all those around me, I go above and beyond the call of duty and I live to help and serve those around me. But I'm human. I make mistakes. We all do, right?

My weakness is that when I'm focussed on a task, I'm not really aware of anything else. I zone out. Ask my family. LOL! They can tell you stories!

A few day ago, I was working in a shared space, focussed on fixing a mini-crisis not of my own making and saving someone else's professional pride, and people were talking around me. Some part of my brain must have registered the conversation, because, before I knew it, I found myself commenting on something. As the words left my mouth I realised that I'd said something that I shouldn't.

I'd inadvertently made a comment that would lead, via a series of questions, to sharing something confidential about someone. Actually, it's not confidential. Everyone already knows this piece of information, but no-one talks about it publically, because it would embarrass the person it concerns. In other words, my comment was said in the presence of the person my private conversation had been about. Ouch!

(And before you start thinking I'd been gossipping, and had now been caught out, I hadn't. I try very hard not to gossip at work. My private conversation had been held in my position of authority, as I have responsibility for a portion of this person's work, and it was regarding that work.)

I immediately tried to divert attention, dodge the inevitable questions and otherwise wangle my way out of it. With my brain already 95% occupied with fixing this crisis, it didn't have the requisite power to find the right words to say. Naturally, I thought of what they were later, after the crisis had been solved. Naturally. *rolls eyes*

Unfortunately, my inability to find the right words to save my own ass happened with someone who is already a rather touchy person, who easily takes offence when none is intended, who easily gets on her high horse, who fails to admit that she might be human, who is so concerned with being perfect all the time. It's like the story of the person with the log in his eye trying to take the speck out of someone else's. Sigh. It would be THIS person I'd made my comment to.

As I've lain awake at night, replaying the story in my head, I've imagined what I would have done if it had been me in those shoes. My response would not have been as dramatic as hers. I would have been puzzled by the comment, and I would have asked the same initial questions. However, I wouldn't have demanded answers the way she did, and I also would not have taken it personally. I would also have followed up on it differently.

I have mused over what might cause me to react in the way she did, and I realised that it must come from a deep-seated insecurity, or fear. That realisation has helped me, actually, not to take her reaction personally. But still. I want to fix this thing I broke, and I can't. But I digress.

The following morning, immediately following our usual morning meeting, she confronted me, loudly, angrily, and in front of everyone. I suppose I deserved that, since my comment had also been made publically. However, as we were all rushing off to a second meeting, there was no time to really discuss it. All I managed to get in at the very end of her tirade was to say, "You're right. I'm sorry." and that to her back, as she pushed past me and stormed away.

She hadn't intended to give me a chance to apologise, nor had she any intention of forgiving me. She had deliberately intended to humiliate me the way she felt I had humiliated her. She deliberately tried to recreate the situation she felt she had been in, in order to wound me the way she had been wounded. I was certainly embarrassed by our confrontation, but if her intention was to humiliate me, then she failed.

We all struggle, I know, to admit it when we're wrong. In this case, I know I was wrong. I'm more than willing to admit that. I'm sorry that I said what I said. I'm sorry that I wounded her pride. What upsets me though, is that I am being barred from fixing this, that she won't allow me to apologise, nor will she consider forgiving me.

Thus, I have turned to the One who ultimately grants forgiveness. I can't fix this situation. The damage is done and can't be undone. I screwed up. I shouldn't have said what I did in the way I did. It might have been the truth, but it shouldn't have come out in the way it did. While she may not be willing to hear my apology, God is. While she may not be willing to forgive me, He has.

There is great comfort in knowing that. However, being forgiven doesn't mean the consequences of my actions disappear like smoke, more's the pity. And so I am left replaying these situations in my mind, over and over, trying to find a way to change the outcome, and constantly failing.

At least we have a long weekend now. Hopefully, by Monday, we will have both moved on. Maybe, by Monday, she will have replayed her confrontation of me over in her head enough times to have heard my apology, and maybe she will have cooled off enough to accept it. Maybe, by Monday, I'll have been sufficiently distracted by other things to be able to let go of this. One can hope.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

The tap has been opened again

Oh wait! I know what I should tell you about! How could I forget?!?!

This past week, I discovered that our nanny's husband has been diagnosed with TB. Fortunately, he is HIV free, as in SA the two go hand-in-hand in most cases. He's been on treatment for 2 weeks now, so should no longer be infectious. Fortunately, he's the type to be very religious about taking his meds, so unless he has a resistant strain (which I'm not sure about, because neither of them have good enough English to ask the right questions, or explain to us the answers they get), he is well on the road to recovery and should make a full recovery.

Our nanny, his wife, has had sputum tests, and her results should be back in about 2 weeks. She's also had an X-ray, which is clear, but she's got this cough.... If her results come back positive I'm going to take our kids for screening as well. If she's clear though, then I'm not going to worry. Living in Cape Town, our kids will get exposed to it more than once, and probably have already been exposed. So, unless they show symptoms, which neither of them currently do, then I'm not going to panic.

So there we are then. That's our little bit of excitement for the week.

At a loss for words

This past week I have had bronchitis - I was off work for 4 days. The result is that I've been too tired to do much of anything. The result of that is that I feel I have nothing to say - I have been sitting staring at the computer screen wondering what on earth I could share with you tonight. Blank. Utter blank.

I could talk about the Olympics, but everyone is doing that. Of course, I'm impressed with Le Clos, and Pistorius. Who isn't?

I could talk about how my daughter dealt a crushing blow to my self-esteem this evening, but that's just depressing.

I could talk about how cute my son is, or about how I can't wait for the terrible threes to come to an end, but if I do the former, I feel I need to say something equally nice about my daughter, and if I do the latter, I'm not sharing anything new.

I could moan about how much my car is going to cost me to repair, and how that means we're going to be broke for the rest of the year - but I'm really not in the mood for moaning, oddly.

I haven't seen any movies, or read any books worth discussing.

Work is work - nothing new there. Marking and more marking, with never enough time to do what I think is necessary to be a good teacher.

I could talk about what God said to me today, except that I'm not sure what it means, and until I do, I don't really want to share it.

So. Bleh. It turns out that I have nothing to say. I reckon this is because I'm still tired and recovering, and just not myself. I'm hoping that's it, cos I really don't like being this way.

Hope you'd had a good weekend though.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

There's a [guest] in my kitchen, what am I gonna do?

You know how awkward it feels to have someone else working in your kitchen making you food?

Yeah, well, that's not me.

I have no problems sitting back and watching while my guest makes supper for me. None.

Does that make me selfish, or incredibly hospitable?

And you know how weird it feels to be working in someone else's kitchen, especially with them watching you all the time?

Yeah, well, that's not my guest tonight.

I guess, in that regard at least, the lovely lady who made supper for us tonight, and I, are well-matched.


I must confess though, I was disappointed that she wasn't wearing her slippers while cooking for us. Last week she promised me she would, and then she didn't. Talk about leaving a girlfriend hanging like that!