How is this normal?

November 9, 2008 at 9:35 am
filed under Classroom, Connecting, Pedagogy
Tagged , , , , , ,

True story. This is what I have witnessed over the past 2 weeks.

Students stress, get upset, cry or just give up and check out – there’s more than one way to deal with stress.

Teachers stress, get upset, cry – at least those who care about being accountable for how they report on their students’ progress. Others smirk, throw a dart and submit their marks on time with no lost sleep (those are the ones who give up and check out).

How has this become normal?

We are all connected.


Don't tell me we are not connected. Don't even try.

Don't tell me that we are not connected. Don't even try.


Education reforms say they focus on process (espoused theory – what we say we believe in, we value), that curriculum is student-centered, favouring communities of learning, communities of practice.

Yet professional development related to Education reform is focused on assessment and evaluation (theory-in-use – what we actually do, not what we say we do), we focus on the end product. We spend so much time focusing on it that process is entangled in the end product. When PD is all about evaluation, then our professional lives become obsessed with it.

Don’t tell me that students are not stressed because their teachers are. Don’t tell me you wonder why students always ask – will we be graded on this? Will this be on the test? Don’t tell me that there is no relationship between our obsession and theirs.

Don’t tell me that the system is not sick, is not creating learning situations wrought with anxiety and frustration, wrought with obsession with the end result.

Don’t tell me that because I won’t believe you.

How is this still normal?

How can I reframe this to generate change?

How can I change this true story?

Thanks to @monarchlibrary for introducing me to Alan Watts and this video, Music and Life.

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  1. Steve Ransom

    on November 9, 2008 at 9:58 am

    Hard topic to read on a peaceful Sunday morning, Tracy ;-)
    I really don’t know the solution – partly because education has become a goal rather than a process, as the video so well depicts. Benchmarks, targets, AYP, SOLs, standards, competencies …. all crying out for attention. Not that any of these are problematic in their own right, but when they begin to drive education at the expense of all else, problems like you describe emerge. This description (http://www.mcgill.ca/edu-e3ftoption/assignments/qepteachingguide/) seems to balance it out well in “theory”. But, as you (and many teachers across the continent) describe, it somehow does not happen in “practice” because there is so much at stake in the output/outcomes of learning rather than on the learning itself. We have adapted much more of a business model of education where what matters most is the bottom line, not how we get there – even if we have documentation that explains most appropriate ways of getting there. In a high-stakes, competitive business economy, it is still about the bottom line. Just look at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
    So, I think we are going to continue on this bumpy, uncomfortable ride for a while. Thank goodness for teachers who try every day to preserve dignity, encourage, engage, make learning relevant, understand, challenge,… Hopefully, these things will contribute to an excellent outcome that is indeed measurable.

    Steve Ransoms last blog post at [site]..Creativity is So Much Phun!

  2. Tracy

    on November 9, 2008 at 9:59 pm

    The link you provide is exactly what you say, a great idea…in theory. The practice is very different. The gap between espoused theory:

    Evaluation Approach:
    • It targets the curricular competencies.
    • It favours authentic evaluation based on performance in real contexts.
    • It favours holistic evaluation.
    • It is used formatively to provide feedback to learners and to inform teaching, as well as to reach summative judgements about learners.
    • It favours shared responsibility for evaluation (teacher, peers, self, other adults)

    and the theory-in-use:

    *authentic formative evaluation being created by teachers who aren’t exactly sure what it is
    *translating scales of competencies to percentage grades to appease parents
    *summative evaluation situations that are created by a central thinktank…
    *trying to evaluate in this way with 35+ students/class

    basically what happens is that we no longer teach to the test because we aren’t exactly sure what the test is, but that test still has high stakes for the futures of our students

    The way I experience it…
    The QEP (the program that your link addresses) is a good program. I really like it – in theory. The issue is that we can not run such a program from within the same structures as before… but we are! The framework is the same old 4 terms/year therefore 4 testing periods/year.

    No wonder we are so pulled out of shape around this. It doesn’t make sense, we are jumping through hoops to pull new threads through the same old loom. The threads are knotting up.

  3. Ken Allan

    on November 10, 2008 at 7:41 am

    Kia ora Tracy

    I agree with you.

    The system is sick. and it is no less so in most other western societies. New Zealand is the same. The system here is also sick, and for the same reasons.

    I left teaching as a head of department in 1987. I took time out, for 5 years, then resumed teaching again as a distance educator. I needed the time out. Though the time out helped me, the system was worse by the time I got back into teaching. It had continued along the same pathway.

    Why did I originally opt out in 1987? Simply this. I recognised that the job I had loved until a few years before then was becoming eroded. I had ceased to be the learner’s friend, coach, mentor and encourager. Even at that time, I was expected to assess my students for their qualifications and it got progressively worse.

    I clearly saw my job becoming double what it was before with the only consequence being less effective education for my students. Less effective? Well of course, for the time I should have spent teaching and coaching was spent assessing.

    Not only that, but the relationship between student and teacher shifted by galaxies. Kids no longer came into a classroom to enjoy a lesson. They skulked in, for they wondered how the teacher was going to mark them down today.

    Sick. Sick. Sick as.

    I don’t like being negative. But this isn’t negativity. It is reality. There is no sense celebrating over a sick, but potential prize-winning race-horse when you know it’s not going to get better. All the coaching in the world doesn’t help it. It’s got to be healed first. Then the teaching can start again.

    In 1985, I received a phone call from a good friend. His son was thinking of becoming a teacher and my friend wanted me to have a word with his son about how to go about getting there. I warned my friend that the conversation may not meet the outcome he expected. But he assured me he had faith in someone whom he felt was an inspiring teacher.

    The conversation was simple. After I had ascertained why this young lad was so mad keen on teaching, and he was, I asked a few searching questions.

    I asked him what he wanted to do with the rest of his time in life when he wasn’t teaching in the classroom. He told me about his plans to travel the world.

    I asked him if he had thoughts about a home and possibly a family. He told me that he and his fiance (also an aspiring teacher) wanted a large home and a large family to enjoy it.

    I asked him if he had thoughts of owning a car. He told me the make and calibre of car he was going to buy when he was earning.

    There were other questions. The answers were as ambitious.

    At the end of that part of our conversation, I explained that I’d been in teaching for 15 years and I could not afford a large home. I could not afford to have more children than I had at that time. I could not afford much better than what we called a banger of a car. I told him that I’d never had a real holiday to speak of. And I was a head of department then.

    Unfortunately, I fell out with my friend when his son eventually decided to study accountancy instead of going into teaching. He owns a penthouse, a holiday home, a yacht and two cars now. He is not stressed when he trades in his nearly new car for a more recent model. But more than that, he is not stressed when he comes home from work in the evenings either.

    As one who is near to retiring from teaching, I am so saddened to learn of young, vibrant teachers, who are frustrated by a sick system, and I keep learning about these.

    Ka kite

    Ken Allans last blog post at [site]..There and Back Again

  4. Michael Doyle

    on November 10, 2008 at 9:23 pm

    It’s November.
    The system is sick, true, as is western culture.

    We’re still human, though, and capable of humanity.
    Dive into Alan Watts, and laugh. Then laugh some more.

    And keep doing what you do so well. We know it’s not normal, and it’s unhealthy to pretend otherwise. But it’s not hopeless.

    The older readers here revere your words, and hope.
    Keep working for what’s possible.

    Why else are we here?

    Michael Doyles last blog post at [site]..Clamming and competency

  5. sweetleaf

    on November 12, 2008 at 12:08 am

    tracy, your sweetness angered eh? first, i love the graphic, it is now my desktop :). from there, my first thought is, that you can create your entanglement, and give to it the way you want, (it is only patience that moves the mountain?). lose ego, attachment to outcomes,… ummm check this out, “Groundwork is the development of the abilities and motivations needed to practice mind training: stable attention, mindfulness in daily behavior, appreciation that your life is yours and yours alone, determination to step out of pattern-based experience, and a genuine desire to help others do so, too.” it is from this link
    http://www.unfetteredmind.org/mindtraining/map.php
    there is some good stuff there for sure :)
    also, great ways can be found in the tao de ching, lao zu; the profit, kahlil gibran; and like writings…alan watts, the way of zen, being one also, for dealing with exactly what frustrates you.
    there is no avoiding entanglement, (that is an awesome dynamic really). yes, shit runs down hill, and can that slide be changed? i think it can, even if it is to just step aside as it goes by, or somehow redirect it? administration assessments are the same realm as corporate as near as i can tell; where the lower on the ladder is suppose to demonstrate the success of the higher up who have had no direct connection with failure or success of the observed, defined by a criteria that’s not even close to a reality of what takes place in what is being looked at, (and most often petty in nature)…crazy for sure. (so f’ em?)
    there is another quote about a path with heart that i like from the carlos castaneda don juan series. okay i found it…“Look at every path closely and deliberately, then ask ourselves this crucial question: Does this path have a heart? If it does, then the path is good. If it doesn’t, it is of no use.”
    tracy, your path always has heart, trust that. no worries on the ones that don’t. :)
    (i hope i didn’t miss the point on all this, and hence gone off on my own tangent?)

  6. reiterations

    on November 17, 2008 at 11:35 pm

    [...] The video that belongs on slide 5, under the heading Music and Life can be viewed at the bottom of this post –> How is this Normal? [...]