Friday, November 30, 2007

The Ledge

It made Dan call from a Minnesota airport, distressed and downtrodden. It sent a talented friend into spirals of doubt and consternation that almost drove her from our school. It’s the ledge, and if you’re around teachers who’ve made it out of those first years, but are still in the semi-mythical three-to-five year range, chances are they’ve spent some time out on it, and have taken in the view from up there. That view? It sucks.

You get up on the ledge as a young teacher when you realize that there is no formal system of accountability anywhere. The evaluation process is an outright joke, your intern advisor calls you exemplary, and your BTSA lady pops in so you can fill out some forms. If you’re coming out of an alternative credentialing program, you’re used to having folks in your class daily, dropping those + / ∆ forms like they’re hot, but that’s done now, and trying to find/ build the culture of observation in the typical urban school is like drinking the damn ocean dry. No one is making sure you do your job well. You’re relatively new to all this, and things can be uneven. Instructional quality tends to fluctuate, but no one’s around to praise the times you bring it, and worse still, there is no one to suggest that uh, you better step it up if you want to make it round here.

You’re up on the ledge when you want to know how to get better, but there’s nothing there. The vast store of practical strategies you took from your alternative or traditional route credentialing program seems to be running a little dry and district PD is either non-existent or an exercise in futility. There is no formal plan for post-competency-acquisition development, unless it is in the areas of technology, and you already know how to use PowerPoint. You do, however, have the opportunity to be told occasionally how great you are because you demonstrate basic competence in the context of repeated failure, and that tends to have the opposite of its intended effect.

It gets worse when you do get better. Your level of quality as an educator changes, but title, position, responsibilities, and compensation remain stagnant. At best, you’re on a conveyor belt that ascends with the speed of a Miami-Dade airport people-mover. At best, you "earn the right" to teach higher performing kids who more readily acquiesce to your wishes. You look around at the time and effort spent on bringing about better instruction and better assessment for the kids, the energy and will poured into creating dynamic environments and learning experiences, the grit and the grind of trying to make of yourself that turnaround teacher, the kind that reverses the disastrous inertia of the previous years – you look around and realize that none of it has any bearing on your professional standing. None of it.

You realize the profession incentivizes mediocrity. It does not drive people to show movies all day, or let kids text and screw around in class – ineptitude takes folks there – but it does incentivize using the same lame worksheets you used the last time around, the same crap readings, head-butting against the same, predictable failures to comprehend and achieve. Because the only lever school leaders have to lean on is the level of caring inherent in the individual teachers, the only thing driving you to do more is to care more. But there’s a limit to your caring, and a limit to the effectiveness of your caring.

So you’re up on that ledge. On one side is the descent into mediocrity and professional stagnation. On the other is leaving, that mythical path out of the classroom. You’re up there, and like Dan, you call me while the car’s getting some new oil, some behind the ears scratching that will enable the 120 mile commute. You call and say, talk me down.

I can’t talk anyone down.

You can’t get down.

All you can do is pitch a tent.

I live up on that ledge, man, live there in the tightrope narrow space where you need to struggle against the constraints of the system in which you work. It’s in that space where you know you do it for the kids, where everything is for the kids, where you get paid in appreciations and handslaps and end-of-the-year surveys from the kids, and you love doing it for the kids, and you want to do it for the kids, but why can’t you do it for any of the other myriad reasons available to other professionals? Why must you be limited, less? You f-ing love the kids, but you want to also work for the things that everyone else gets to work for. You want the opportunity to put your best out there and see it rewarded by something that comes out of the other side of the Venn Diagram, the side that doesn’t have anything to do with the kids. You want to be pushed and challenged, and when you rise to the challenge you want to receive some form of acknowledgement that does not, and must not, arrive in the shape of an apple.

I want to grow. I want to excel. I want to feel like I’m not doing the same entry-level job I was six years ago. I want to feel like factors outside of my own willingness and drive to improve are at work in shaping my professional life.

There’s a growing wave of this stuff. When the CTA lady came to the union meeting to specifically alert new teachers to the dangers of proposed merit pay provisions, I shook my head in tight side-to-sides, because true systems of meritorious compensation are the future of the work we do. New hiring practices, the dissolution of tenure, authentic evaluations, performance based pay – this is what’s needed to get us off that ledge and quell the schizophrenia of being an ambitious and successful teacher in a public school.

More: When this post meets ideological entrenchment.


Anonymous Jeri said...

This post is absolutely right. I can hardly believe there aren't a dozen comments already.

9:27 AM  
Blogger leyla said...

I completely agree. These things (dissolution of tenure, merit-pay, a REAL system of evaluation, etc)
ought to happen. They will not, however, ever happen in public schools unless teacher salaries increase in a massive way.

Public education is dead.
Not in my classroom, not in my specific life, wherein the love and appreciation of teaching and interacting with my kids is enough for me at this point, but it's essentially dead on a global, national level. The things you mention ought to happen. Hell, sign me up! What do I do to make sure these things happen??

The truth is that there is no workforce who is willing to teach extremely well for a long period of time without adequate compensation and without greater decision-making ability at the individual's respective school site.

I understand now, more than ever, those former public school teachers who left the system to create their own schools. Regardless of whether their schools are good or bad or X for society, I understand their desire.

BTW, please know that I teach in a high-performing public school in san francisco with excellent scores. Teacher-centered, lecture-style, worksheet-esque instruction is the norm at my school in general ed (I teach RSP). I obviously don't say this to point to the superiority of this type of instruction, but just to let you know..

Arnold (much easier than spelling his last name) is interested in merit-pay. He should hire you to advise on the creation and implementation of a fair system. I trust you to do it! The team of invidiuals who create the system must not f*ck up. Can you imagine? Teachers are professional complainers as it is (perhaps for good reason), but they would just have a field day with a problematic merit-pay system.

11:40 AM  
Blogger leyla said...

i should say that my comments are intended with a focus on urban schools. maybe public education outside of urban schools is perfectly kosher. dunno.

3:09 PM  
Anonymous TeachMoore said...

Thank you for this post. The lack of real accountability and genuine evaluation of my work was my primary motivation for seeking National Board Certification. I was desperate for some critical review of my work, some idea of whether I was making any real headway in my career. BTW,
Leyla, public education in rural America is suffering also.

7:44 PM  
Anonymous Nekogirl said...

I just passed the five-year mark, and I still find myself on the ledge. I love working with the kids, but I have serious problems with the intransigeancy of people at my school. I was discussing with my husband possible career moves in the near future, and it boils down to change schools or grades ... but anywhere you go the system is more or less the same.

However I approach issues like merit pay and dissolution of tenure with caution. Most of my friends from high school and college were smart and ambitious like me, and they went into more prestigious jobs (doctors, scientists, lawyers) than I did. Many of them would have made great teachers, but they constantly cite the low pay (particularly those with math and science backgrounds) and poor working conditions (behavioral problems, teachers being labelled as the problem) as negative factors about my chosen profession. There are teachers at my school who are lazy and safe in their position because the evaluation system is extremely lax. Shifting to merit pay and eliminating tenure would shake things up, but it would require much more time dedicated to examining what happens in the classroom (you thought the BTSA forms were bad ... imagine them every year for the rest of your career) and it could adversely affect the schools in most need (without tenure, you may have a lot of instability in the teaching force and with merit pay, teachers may move away from teaching in the most challenging schools where the risk of failure is greater).

I also wish there was an effective evaluation process. Right now it's just a system for administrators to check off boxes.

2:41 AM  
Anonymous ms. frizzle said...

Yes!!!! I live with you up there. It's making me crazy. And hell, I'm doing a lot of leadership work within my school but despite that I'm still up there. There's nowhere to go from here... or there are places to go but they feel irrelevant to where I'd like to be... and when I post about this I feel the divide - the canyon at the base of the ledge - widening between me and, well, what feels like everyone else in the NYC public schools sometimes. Because I can't stay in this profession with nowhere to go.

11:50 AM  
Blogger J said...

ms frizzle pointed me to this post, and what a relief to find such a perfect articulation of what i've been feeling the last three years.

and I don't think I want to live on that ledge. I know I'm leaving this particular ledge, but who knows what I'll find after this.

Good on you for staking out your claim and working so hard.

4:52 PM  
Anonymous BelieveInTheDelta said...

I stumbled upon this blog in hopes that it might inspire me to teach beyond my TFA commitment...

I agree with Nekogirl, in that in my rural, isolated town, merit pay would only hurt schools, sending teachers away from struggling schools (and away from my rural world) toward the bigger cities where success is more likely to be found. My school would remain in the same place it's in: every year, 10-30% of the staff is replaced (not because of TFA, because of test scores), test scores remain stagnant, new teachers being walked on daily by high schoolers who want a diploma by giving as little effort as possible and getting away with it.

Yet, as you argue, how can the system shake things up without destroying them? How can we push coworkers to care more? Unfortunately, that's what I see at my school and in my school district; half of the teachers care about the kids and do their job, and half of the teachers are happy that they have one of the highest paying salaried jobs in our town and don't do a damn thing except make kids read from textbooks. The higher-ups in the central office have taken notice, too, and we now have video cameras monitoring our teaching every day. Like that will make us more effective, knowing that my principal is always watching me.

In thinking about this, it makes me feel as if collaboration and strong school culture is necessary in order to bring about professional development. And it makes me want to leave my ledge in this little, rural town I've called home the past two years and climb out on another more stable and accepting ledge... or climb off forever.

8:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not just young, early career teachers. I'm in year 20. It's the same from this place. Two things: 1) I remember a sociology of teaching class in grad school where I read that it is ONLY in teaching that you have as much responsibility on DAY 1 as you will have on the last day of your teaching career. The lack of a career ladder is our problem, IMO. And 2)My only salvation has been the collaborative, collegial relationships I have made with other teachers, who plan and teach with me. I know that in a competitive, "merit-pay" context, we would not necessarily want to/be able to build each other professionally; we'd be working to keep our good ideas to ourselves, and to use them to impress the boss.

7:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Acvocating merit pay makes me wonder about my colleagues who are teachers and would rather cannibalize each other instead of helping each other out. The comment above gets it right.

7:43 PM  
Anonymous Joanne said...

A hallelujah chorus to this post, TMAO.

I worked for a local coffee house for two years before teaching and got more job feedback than I do now, as a professional educator. Coffee beans get more respect than teaching. Unbelievable.

And I'm still on the ledge, too. I sat in a dept meeting today and found myself listening to a conversation where colleagues dismissed - you hear that? DISMISSED - the goal of long-term retention. "I teach it, it's over," said one.

I'm shaking my head on the drive home, drowning out the feelings of despair and futility by cranking up the LL Cool J and drinking Coke. Building on skills? Knowledge acquisition, practice, and retention? Spiraling lessons? Academic vocabulary? Reteaching? Those hours I spend analyzing writing, holding writing conferences with individual students?

The hell?

10:24 PM  
Blogger allen said...

Well boy howdy. You finally figured out that in a system in which quality goes unmeasured excellence is irrelevant.

Not content to notice that the emperor's wardrobe leaves little to the imagination you toss out a couple of palliatives but miss the cure because you're view is too narrow to see the disease.

If you don't measure the quality of the school then the quality of the teachers is unimportant. If there aren't meaningful measures of quality, with hard-edged consequences for failure to meet minimum standards, for the school then what's the point of measuring the quality of the teachers?

That's the singular accomplishment of NCLB; that it places the emphasis where its never been placed, on the individual school.

8:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A huge WORD to this.

I'm so freaking tired of going through administrator after administrator, year after year, because our union keeps driving them off. I'm so tired of lack of continuity and lack of accountability. I WANT someone in my classroom observing me and giving me feedback on a weekly basis, damnit! I want someone else to tell me there are things I do well and things I can improve on and to be specific about them and have them have seen those things over time, not once every five years. I want ideas and strategies. I want to feel like I'm going somewhere, rather than each year being Groundhog Day.

THANK YOU for this post. I'm on the ledge too, and while I've got a tent and an air mattress, after six years, I'm beginning to think that there are softer beds elsewhere. I can't imagine doing anything else besides teaching, but I can't imagine staying in this system for 30 more years.

10:18 PM  
Blogger EdWonk said...

I wonder what the percentage is of us California classroom teachers who would stay in the CTA voluntarily if we could get out and keep our $900+ per annum dues money?

10:47 PM  
Blogger Jenny D. said...

This is the most revealing post about the work of teaching I have ever read. And it really puts me on the spot. To make my degree worth something, I need to work to help make sure that teachers don't feel this way. We in the academy need to spend more time making sure the teachers we send out to do this difficult work have many, many more tools than they do now.

Thanks for this. It really touched me.

5:52 AM  
Anonymous Zoniedude said...

I've been reading similar comments for about 25 years. Twenty years ago I wrote a booklet called "Reforming the Classroom" that was the focus of a seminar. It pointed out that the structure of education forced its problems: no management training and no management between the principal and the classroom.

If you choose merit pay without tenure you will have the same incompetent principal making decisions with the same lack of knowledge to provide feedback.

What I proposed 20 years ago was a structure of collaborative teacher groups with master teachers assigned to specialize in the core subject areas in order to train and provide resources for the other teachers, including the other master teachers. Each group would have a former master teacher as a group leader who would be part-time teacher and part-time resource teacher (peer coach) to work with the team.

The result would be more collaboration between teachers, greater ability to determine what teachers needed help/remediation, and a process in which teachers would progress in responsibility and pay toward the principalship.

This would mean the average classroom teacher would no longer be isolated but rather have the resources and support of other teachers, some of whom would be designated the responsibility to serve as a buffer between management and professionalism.

Management would improve over time as group leaders became principals so that principals would both understand the pedagogy of each core area from their collaboration and group supervision, and have extensive experience working in a collaborative environment.

Removing incompetent teachers would be much simpler when you have a collaborative team of peers who recommend removal. In fact, most would simply leave.

Having the recognition and pay of being a master teacher and the esteem of being a group leader as well as the better working conditions of a collaborative environment would resolve a lot of these problems.

Ironically, if there was an appeal to increase education funding in order to implement this structure it would probably be supported by critics of education and get funding. But teachers themselves have to understand that a general across the board increase in education funding is only likely AFTER this structure convinces the public the funding would result in constructive changes to the system. Management expert W. Edward Deming pointed out that it is the structure of a system that creates the problems and successes, not the individual efforts of people in the system.

9:32 AM  
Anonymous Debbie said...

Your post and the thoughts in the many comments were the primary motivation for the development of the Teacher Advancement Program (TAP), which is operated by the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, the organization I currently work for. I’m not trying to sell you anything, but I thought that you might find it helpful to know that great work is being done to address exactly the issues that you brought up in your post. For one, TAP institutes multiple career paths for teachers in participating schools. Teachers can move up the career ladder, starting as a career teacher and moving up to become a mentor or master teacher, without having to leave the classroom and become an administrator. The greater responsibilities are also supported with greater pay.

The three other key elements of the program include ongoing, applied professional development, instructionally focused accountability and performance-based compensation. If you’d like more information, check out our website at

TAP is unique because it’s a comprehensive program. In many cases, it also requires teacher buy-in before being implemented. It was these features, along with the quality of the other elements, that drew me to want to work for this organization. I too am a former TFA corps member (DC ’03) who grew impassioned about issues in teacher quality. I went to public policy school with the intention of working on addressing teacher quality issues when I came across information about TAP.

Unfortunately, TAP currently doesn’t operate in any CA schools. It’s based out of Santa Monica, and operates in 14 states and D.C., but it has yet to have a presence in CA. But, like leyla mentioned, the governor is looking to propose performance-based pay for CA teachers, the tenets of which are similar to what TAP already does. Hopefully, with the growing awareness and support of teachers like you, many of these policies that are already doing great things in other parts of the country will come to CA schools.

12:54 PM  
Blogger Artemisia said...

What a wonderful post.

I'm not a teacher, but a corporate educator and mother who has watched her kids' education with a critical eye. I'm appalled by so many aspects of the system that rewards mediocrity, provides dead ends for those who seek excellence and further development, and depends on (as you note) your caring about the kids - that's not enough to retain and reward the best and brightest.

6:36 PM  
Anonymous Sarah said...

Thank you for this thoughtful post.

I am at the same institution as Jenny D, (who commented here) and agree that academics in our school of education at least care about helping teachers improve instruction (a step in the right direction for academia).

If merit pay is going to work, it seems like the system needs to hold teachers accountable for their knowledge, skills, and dispositions in teaching practices. It can't be simply based on kids test scores - because we know that myriad factors contribute to students' performance on those tests. But, if we have all sorts of research on best practices, then we can hold teachers accountable in some way to those best practices.

7:23 PM  
Blogger TMAO said...

Yo, thanks for the words. It's rough to respond to all of it, mostly because I'm a bad blogger, but thanks.

Leyla/ Nietzsche: Yeah, public ed is dead, because "public" is dead, right? The concepts of public life, public sphere, public participation, public space.

Teachmoore: I think National Board Certification is a nod in the right direction. Does it get us there? Is it right on?

Debbie: The system you're describing sounds like the kind of thing we need. Terms like "mentor teacher" and "master teacher" get thrown around without any type of attached definition or mutual understanding of what they are thought to mean for the individuals who hold them. How can we formalize those roles, make them meaningful?

10:31 PM  
Blogger Andromeda said...

I'm in my fifth year of teaching. Your post is like a bolt of lightning -- everything I've been thinking this last year or so. I think I'm going to leave teaching at the end of the year. I don't know that I necessarily want to leave education. Maybe I'll end up in educational research. But I just don't see a role for myself going forward, and there doesn't seem to be an alternative but to work another 20 hours a week I don't have, or to throw it all away.

Oh, and I teach in a New England prep school. It's not just urban public educational culture, even if my forms are different. I think it's almost everywhere.

3:13 PM  
Blogger glad2be said...

I'm up there with you, man. Does it get better after the magical five-year mark? I'm on my fourth year and frankly, I'm about to take the step off the ledge and spiral into the vast unknown. As an alternatively-certified person who came into the profession as a seasoned adult who understands the ins and outs of getting along in the business world, of climbing the ladders, and of truly having to achieve to receive, I find myself constantly wishing for that assurance that comes from the threat of losing a job because of mediocrity. I look around at the teachers who are constantly sitting behind their desks and/or showing those movies in class, and realize that they get the same evaluations at the end of the year that I do, and it scares me to think that I, too, could end up going that route just because I can get by with it. I struggle with the responsibility I feel for my student's futures and sometimes it seems too much to handle because I have no support network, no system of reassurance that I truly am doing my job well.

Thank you for your well-written post. It helps to know I'm not the only one . . .

6:56 PM  
Anonymous Dina said...

TMAO-- first time reader. In your mind's ear please hear me (nine year veteran of ESL in upstate NY) saying the following with a uber-friendly challenging twinkle:

Not to be demanding or anything, but since invective is the cul-de-sac of argument (cough), let's hear some argument in your next post. What would a system of REAL teacher accountability look like to you? This is a recast of that typical graduate school activity where you imagine your "perfect school," of course, and as such may not be interesting to you, and maybe you've already blogged on this-- if so my apologies. But I'd bet your readership, me included, would be interested in having your Eden annotated in one post.

I'm at, by the way. Stop by and say hi. Thanks for your voice.

6:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

tmao, In response to your question to Donna, I am currently in my first year as a TAP mentor teacher in Chicago. There are specific, defined roles for mentor and master teachers (we call master teachers "lead teachers") and the structure addresses many of the issues that you raise (at least it seems to in the first half of the school year that I've been involved in it.) We have imbedded professional development that is focused on our professional learning plans, we have individual meetings and observations with other teachers (for constructive feedback on our practice), and we meet frequently in grade-level groups to provide a collaborative atmosphere that is focused on increasing student achievement. This is my fifth year teaching and I can honestly say that participating in this program has made me feel more supported and has made me feel "off the ledge," because believe me, I was there many a time during my first four years. I also happen to work at a school that has always put a value in imbedded professional development for teachers since it inception three years ago, so I'm sure that helps, but I think that the TAP program has provided a structure for many of the activities that we tried to do in the previous two years.

9:58 PM  
Blogger leyla said...

jenny d:

what tools do you wish that the teachers on the ledge would have?
i don't get it.

incidentally, there also should be more accountability for professors and programs in credentialing.

in many schools in california, an individual can obtain a special education credential without taking a course on dyslexia or dysgraphia or other learning disabilities. of course, they would LOVE to take these courses, but programs don't offer them. what a crime (and a joke), no?

An excellent and fair system of merit-pay is really so important. Imagine if school districts still had their base salary and regular salary schedules, but that teachers who excel, perform, or consistently use best practices, etc., would receive additional compensation.

I don't know.. I'm just thinking out loud. The complexity of creating a fair system cannot be understated.

9:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps a little humility is in order here. I see all these posts from teachers who have nothing but admiration for their own work and yet contempt for the work of other teachers. I have been in meetings and trainings with teachers who talk about the wonderful, amazing work they do in their classes. Yet, when my own children and their friends are in those classes, when I see the assignments and hear how the period is spent, I see an entirely different picture.
In the 15 years I've been teaching,the 24 years I've been parenting, and 32 years I've been step-parenting, I've seen good, bad and mediocre teachers. But something they all have in common is that they all think they are the cat's meow.
My daughter is currently in a credential program. She says these students who haven't even begun teaching already think they are 100 times better than experienced teachers.
If we crave respect for our profession, shouldn't we give respect to those who practice with us?
Also, for those posters that believe that "merit" pay and removal of tenure are the answers to the ills of education, the two worst teachers my children had received the most accolades and support from their administrators. Somehow their air of self-importance comes across to their boss as actual importance. Regardless of student and parent complaints, these teachers remain in the classroom and have also obtained prestigious assignments.
In the 15 years I've been teaching, I've taught at two entirely different schools. Even when I'm at the same school, I have changed my methods, my curriculum, my books; I'm always looking for a new and better way. So, please, when you look at us, the teachers that have gone before you, please don't see us as complacent, movie-showing laggards. It's hard enough to teach in the current political atmosphere where teachers are degraded. We don't need to do it to ourselves.

11:15 AM  
Blogger TMAO said...

Debbie & TAP-writing Anon: The structures you're writing about sound right-on. It excites me that things like this are occuring, if only in necessarily limited standpoints. I like the concepts of "embedded professional development." My buddy [Archimedes] and I talk a lot about a program of embedded credentialing, and embedded "pre-service" (shitty term) training.

Knowing next to nothing about what ya'll are doing, I have two questions. 1) Are you running this program/ structure within a pre-existing, public LEA system? 2) What keeps it running at a high quality? How is stagnation avoided/ prevented?

7:41 PM  
Blogger TMAO said...

Most recent anon:

I think you're off base with your comments. There's nothing here that's an attack, implict or otherwise, against more experienced teachers. I'm writing about myself here, and if others feel similarily, it's indicative of nothing more than the scope of the situation. Here we are: We don't not need help with classroom management, we don't need gross corporate sructures or work environments, but we do need a way to grow in our jobs that exists beyond our own considerable internal motivation.

7:44 PM  
Blogger Clix said...

TMAO - please don't take this the wrong way - but if your internal motivation is, as you say, "considerable," why isn't that enough? I'm not quite halfway through year three, and I agree that having to find ways on my own to improve my teaching methods can be challenging. And with other demands on time like grading, planning, forming meaningful relationships with students and colleagues, etc... it can also be difficult to prioritize.

But I make more than enough to live on, even without merit pay (though I'd love to be able to make car and home repairs without having to save up or, God forbid, take out a loan). While having better professional rewards might be nice, the intrinisic reward of student improvement trumps anything an employer could possibly provide anyway. Isn't that what we were looking for - why we became teachers?

6:19 AM  
Anonymous Maryann said...

In theory the TAP program sounds great. However, people must be aware of the unintended consequences. I'm in a school district that has used the TAP model for the last 6 years. It has not improved test scores, out teacher turnover is higher than before, our administrator turnover is higher than before, and in fact the top 4 district administers quit last year and the superintendent was paid $250,000 to leave. The master teachers and principal evaluate the teachers in their building, and these evaluation scores determine 50% of the bonus. Until this year the mentor teachers also evaluated their fellow teachers...not a sensible plan for team building since teachers were hesitant to admit struggles because these weaknesses showed up on the evals. The evaluation itself is cumbersome containing probably 100 elements that must be demonstrated during an eval...impossible to do. Often times mentors have 3-5 years experience because the veterans won't participate. Evaluations are conducted differently in each school with some scholls having "easy" evaluations. The district claims that all evaluators are rigorously and scientifically trained. The evaluations, state test scores, and NWEA scores are combined using a formula no one can explain. Then these scores are plotted on a bell curve and only about 15% of the teachers receive any significant bonus, although teachers are not allowed to talk about this and parents are not allowed to know which teachers are the stars according to the evaluation rubrics. The TAP program requires many master and mentor teachers which in theory sounds great. However, their stipends are very expensive (costs in the 2 million dollar range) and their presence comes out of the FTE for each building. The schools report the same teacher/student ratio but in reality class sizes have increased while time in specials has decreased since the implementation of TAP. The entire district went to a trimester system to accomodate "cluster meetings" at the high school level. These meetings are where masters and mentor teachers work with staff on specific goals. The high school now has ridiculous schedules for kids such as math offered 2 trimesters per year. Susie may have math trimester 2 and 3 and then not again until the next year trimester 2. Imagine how this works for AP classes or foreign language. Tenth grade state test scores for 2007 show that 73% of the kids were NOT proficient in math, 51% were NOT proficient in writing, and 52% were NOT proficient in science, and this is the cohort that has had TAP since the 6th grade! Teachers detest this program, parents are unhappy, test scores are horrible and it has hurt our district.

10:15 AM  
Anonymous Penny said...

Thanks so much, Maryann, for your comments. I teach at a school in its 2nd year of TAP. We got involved because the program was totally misrepresented to us and now we have been told we have a 5-year commitment. My question to you is this: Is there a way to opt out, and are we legally bound since we signed nothing on paper? We are going to lose the best teachers in my school and in our district because of this program. It's not what it's cracked up to be, but it's like pulling teeth to get anyone to be straightforward and honest with us.

8:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have taught for 20 years and have been a TAP master teacher for the past 3 years in my district. It was absolutely the worst thing to ever happen to our "hard to staff" school. It creates hours upon hours of extra work for our already overworked teachers, for sometimes as little as $300 for the year. Our test scores have yet to improve, and in some areas have gone down. Our teacher turn-over rate has sky-rocketed. Our new teachers have less experience than ever before. This program has not attracted experienced teachers because experienced teachers know enough to stay away from this type of program.

There are some facets of TAP that could be helpful, if not for the unforgiving protocol. Each meeting must spend exactly 2 minutes on this, then 5 minutes on that, then 10 minutes on this, then 25 minutes on that. If there are more pressing needs, forget it, you cannot deviate from the "protocol".

I can relate so well to the evaluation rubric that Mary
Ann mentions. It has well over 100 indicators that must be met to rate at an acceptable level. This is virtually impossible and, for some subjects, some of the indicators are not even applicable. After every evaluation "coaching session", the teacher leaves feeling like no matter what he/she does, she will NEVER EVER be good enough, according to the evaluation rubric.

The TAP people are not ones to listen to suggestions of ways to improve their program, which sounds great in theory, but impossible in reality. They, who are supposed to be so supportive and helpful, have never been that for me, a master teacher. All they ever wanted from me was to video tape a cluster meeting so they can rip it apart and use it as a "what not to do" lesson, I expect. That is what they normally do with the videos we have seen at conferences.

TAP has a great public relations push going on, but I would caution any school from signing on. It comes with an outrageous cost (in the six-figures, yearly) and produces little to no results, in our experience.

6:00 PM  
Blogger EmL said...

"You do, however, have the opportunity to be told occasionally how great you are because you demonstrate basic competence in the context of repeated failure, and that tends to have the opposite of its intended effect."

First of all, this is a fantastic quote. I really appreciate your writing style. I am currently a student teacher working towards my certification and master's degree at the same time. I consistently receive outstanding feedback from the personnel in my building and though it may feel good to revel in the pats on the back and the nods of approval, I have a hard time taking this feedback seriously. I wonder what a corporate boss would say of my work. It is discouraging to be entering into a profession where the evaluation system is a system of checked off boxes.

6:02 PM  
Anonymous words said...

...the dissolution of tenure, authentic evaluations, performance based pay.. hmmm, yes this things. :)

11:20 AM  
Anonymous Naomi said...

Maybe the ledge is in fact a wonderful place to be? From the ledge you can see the need for change, and the drive that brought you to it could in fact DRIVE THAT CHANGE.

Folks on the ledge, let's put our heads together. Get creative. Take risks. Try new things. Become our own experts. And then share the wealth.

3:59 PM  
Blogger Smarticus said...

Merit pay will not work. It is not a new idea. Merit pay in several forms has been tried for 60 years, and has always failed for all the reasons cited above.

A critical reason merit pay will not work is described by Daniel Pink, author of the award winning book Drive! focusing on what motivates us. Check it out here:

If a job has complex cognitive function, according to the studies cited in the video above, throwing more money at it for improved performance will have the opposite effect.

8:47 PM  

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