Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Rigor and relationship

I was waiting in line at the salad bar.  A young man was looking at a list and adding items one at a time.  Jumping forward to get some broccoli, the backwards to find some chick peas.  Clearly, he had never gotten salad from the salad bar before; he was doing his mother’s dirty work. 

The back of his shirt said J------, and I remembered – yes, vaguely – a former student with the same name, but because I had not seen his face full on, I had no idea if it were him. 

At last, after reading and crossing off each item he had gotten, he turned and looked up.  “Miss Reinhold?” I saw it, the ten-year-old J------ in his much older face.  “J------?”

I asked J----- how old he was, barely able to keep myself from staring at his eyelashes, the same ones that had impressed me years ago.  You know, the kind that actually curl up on the ends. 

He said he had just graduated and would be attending Ohio University, but planned to enter the Army after getting ROTC training.  “Every man in my family does it. They are usually in and out in four years, but I want to make a career of it.  Join the special forces.  Do ranger work.  You know.”

I did not know. 

How could I?  Even though what stood before me was a grown, sophisticated young man, J------ was still ten to me. And I did not want any of my ten-year-olds going off to war. 

Before we parted, J------ promised to come back to Fernway this fall to visit.  He asked me how the poetry play went.  He said he had heard people talking about it.  It was, he smiled, one of his favorite things at Fernway.

I spent all of last week attending training for OTES, a new teacher evaluation system that will go into place next year.  A teacher – through a fairly complex rating system based half on value-added data and half on a teacher observation rating – can attain one of four rankings: Ineffective, Developing, Proficient, and Accomplished.  

Trust me when I tell you, it will be hard, hard work for me to end up being Proficient.  Accomplished is out of the question.  Most days, if I tell you the truth, I am merely Developing based on this new scale.

And then, I spent Monday learning about the new Common Core curriculum to which we are accountable in 2013-14, as well. 

When I think back on my teachers, my favorite teachers – they did two things: made learning fun while being challenging and they recognized me as an individual.  Rigor and relationship. 

I understand the need to make teachers accountable for their students, I do.  And, to be honest, I'm worried.  I specialize in rapport and creativity and neither of those attributes seem to be leading this reformation.  I’m not worried that I will be found less-than or incapable.  I’m not worried about my job, as naïve as that is.  

I’m worried about two things.  First, the domination of head-centered learning (in a time when head/heart-centered learning is called for).  We all know that positive radical change happens when a motivating feeling is attached problem that needs to be solved. And I’m worried that we will not have old teachers laughing with college-bound kids at a salad bar.  There just will not be time or a call for connecting, person to person.  It's all about data now.  

We might not have him sharing a dream.  Her giving blessings.  His soft heart saying, “Poetry mattered to me because I got to say what I needed to say.”  That kind of stuff might not happen any more because that kind of stuff doesn't really matter.  There is no measurable data point to learning who you are, not what the nation needs you to know. 

Truth told, the state of Ohio can put any rating on me that they want.  I know what counts.  I know the value I’ve added.   And so, I hope, does J-------.  


  1. Jean, this is just amazing. Can you submit this to "The Sun" magazine, please? Please??? It belongs there. YOU belong there.

  2. This is wonderful...if only there were more teachers like you (or, rather, if only more teachers were ALLOWED by the system to be this way). Your post is powerful.

  3. Thank you for this post. If you still teach anything like you did when I went to Fernway, you are undoubtedly bringing rigor and relationships to students. I sincerely hope that you are able to play the game well so that you can continue to teach the way that truly makes a difference.

  4. i think it is "developing" that is the highest ranking teachers should aspire to.
    here's to being there for each of our students, to being creative and learning and trying and always, always developing. ALWAYS.
    (just found you via maya stein. i love your writing. thank you.) zelda.