As many of you know, at the end of last school year, I was compiling a huge portfolio for my Connecticut certification. It is called the BEST and all second year teachers have to complete it. As you may remember, the instruction manual was 64 pages long for my area of certification and I had to collect an enormous amount of student work, write reflections, film myself teaching, reflect on that, answer survey questions, blah, blah, blah. It was a tremendous amount of work and even more stress because of how specific everything has to be. But everyone who completes the BEST knows that this is an assessment that judges only one’s ability to follow directions and not one’s teaching ability.
I chose to demonstrate the work on Titus Andronicus that I’d been doing with my 9th graders. If you remember, I was so totally psyched about their hard work last year–understanding Shakespeare is not an easy task. And I had to guide them through their comprehension of very difficult text, ask them to relate it to themselves, get them to analyze characters’ speeches and motivations for the actions they took. It was just the most rewarding teaching experience I’d ever had and I wanted to show the BEST people what I could do. I knew I was doing really well with my kids on this unit because my kids were so responsive to the text and to the activities. It was during this time that kids’ homework completion improved, their class participation improved…everything. I wrote about it all the time on my blog for the New Haven Independent and I was genuinely thrilled to be working with the kids and Shakespeare. I knew it would be great for the BEST.So some time in May, I sent my 100-something paged portfolio along with a huge sigh of relief to the BEST headquarters in Willimantic, which is where it would be read by two or three people and given a score between a failing 1 and an excellent 4. At the same time as the BEST, I was looking for a job overseas, so my world was kind of all up in the air. In all honesty, as soon as I sent my portfolio in, I didn’t give it another thought.
Until last Wednesday. I spoke with a colleague on the phone about BEST scores and she mentioned that one of my other colleagues, Dave, who was doing his BEST at the same time I was got a 1 on his portfolio–a failure.
Okay, hold it. Dave is one of the best science teachers I know. Not only does he have an outstanding rapport with his students, he gets them to learn, gets them involved in their own learning, is a firm disciplinarian, an incredible leader. I couldn’t believe it. I realized my score would be available online, so as soon as I got off the phone with my friend, I checked my score.
At first I laughed because I couldn’t believe it. And then I felt hot tears behind my eyes. I got a 1. I failed. I failed a major assessment that would enable me to get my permanent Connecticut certification and would make my attempt at certification for other states much easier.
But there’s more to this story. WHY did Dave not pass? Because SOMEONE, some nameless scorer who has most likely not been a teacher, didn’t like the CONTENT of his portfolio. Dave did everything perfectly–followed the BEST guidelines to a T. Perfect. The scorer even said so on the outline of his score–perfect in this respect. But some chucko who doesn’t have to put his or her name on his or her judgement of Dave’s work, chose to say, “I don’t like what Dave was doing with his students. Therefore, I shall fail him and he will have to do it again next year.” Even though Dave followed all the guidelines, did exactly what was asked of him, he didn’t pass. Because someone didn’t like what he was doing. (Which was actually an anatomy lab where the students dissected frogs. It was an awesome class; I filmed it for him. I was there. I saw it.)
Me? I don’t know why I didn’t pass. When you check your score online, it just gives you the score, not the explanation. Because I moved out of the country and changed my address, it has probably gotten lost in the mail. So I am stuck here just kind of guessing why I didn’t pass.
So what does this mean for me and for Dave? For Dave, he gets another chance to do it over. He has to do it by December, all over again, a different unit, from scratch. This means he has to go through the same 70-something page manual, follow the same guidelines, film his classes again, collect another massive amount of student work. All that. But this time, he has to make sure that the people who will score his work will actually “like” what he’s doing.
And so if he doesn’t pass the second time, he gets one more chance–and maybe that third time isn’t guaranteed; it’s kind of like case-by-case to grant the third time. If that doesn’t work, he can’t get certified in the state of Connecticut at all.
For me, it means the same thing. However, my CT certification expires July 2007 and I can’t renew my initial educator’s certificate because it’s just meant to be initial. I am clearly not returning to CT to teach any time soon, so when I want to teach again I will have to reapply for certification, which will then require that I have to do BEST again.
That is, if I chose to teach in Connecticut. And let me say that I would consider it if I didn’t have to do this stupid, stupid portfolio again. But because of this failure, it is enough to make me not want to teach in CT public schools ever again. It sounds petty, I know. But when a person puts in weeks and weeks of planning, writing, reflecting, typing, filming, editing, it’s kind of a slap in the face and makes the idea of teaching in that state sound less and less appealing.
The BEST is not an accurate measure of a good teacher. The BEST measures how one teacher is able to follow directions and appeal to subjective scorers. That’s it. The true measure of a good teacher is IN the classroom. You want to tell me I failed the BEST? Fine. I failed. But you were never in my classroom! You were never THERE with my students who sat around in a circle reading Shakespeare–and not the dumbed-down version…the real thing–and teaching it to each other! You were never there to see them relate a five hundred year-old text to their own lives! You weren’t there to listen to the speeches they wrote when they stepped into characters’ shoes. You weren’t there when we had visitors from New Mexico listen in on a conversation my ninth grade students were having about revenge, Titus Andronicus, their own lives, and you weren’t there when those visitors asked me what I did to get my kids to have that conversation. These were kids who would be labeled “special ed” kids and probably cast aside at another school, in another classroom. But not my classroom! My kids could read. And I helped them. I did that. I was their teacher.
You tell me I failed the BEST? Some ridiculous compilation of writing and student work and stupid video excerpts and stupid reflections? Fine. Maybe I didn’t follow all of your directions. Maybe you didn’t like what I did. Whatever. But you will never, never tell me–and I will never, never believe–that I failed as a teacher.
New Haven Academy, the school where two out of three teachers who were in their BEST Portfolio year failed, raised its 10th grade reading and writing CAPT scores to 74%, doubling the scores of other high schools in the city. The 10th graders who took the CAPT last year were 9th graders the year before. I taught them. Dave taught them. How is it possible to have such incredible success in one school in which TWO teachers failed the BEST?
The BEST doesn’t measure a teacher’s ability to teach. You want to judge whether or not I am a good teacher–or whether Dave is a good teacher–come into our classrooms. See what we do. This is what we know how to do, and we do it well. We do it damn well.