Thursday, November 24, 2011

"Indicators" Aren't the Whole Story

Now that the holidays are upon us, it is time for us all to pause and reflect on what is most important to us. And by “most important,” I can only mean attending day-long workshops designed to prepare us for the rigorous new Marzano-based evaluation system which will be used to determine if we can keep our jobs or, if we’re really good, qualify for Merit Pay – the funding of which, by the way, seems awfully doubtful at this point.

Marzano (let’s just say his first name is “Hank”), meanwhile, is probably resting comfortably at home with his family, roasting his chestnuts over an open fire and serenely surveying the material luxuries he has earned by reinventing the ancient Wheel of Pedagogy.

Hank Marzano, of LearningSciencesInternational (all one word with the “i” in “Learning” dotted with a rising sun), has generated, isolated or discovered 60 indicators of, I guess, effective teaching. Many school systems, however, have trimmed those down to, say, 15 or 18 because 60 is – what’s the academic term? – freakin’ insane!

You can imagine my chagrin when I was first introduced to this list at the beginning of my 31st year of teaching, 36th if you include my graduate teaching-assistant years. I was overwhelmed with regret. “If only I had known about these 60 indicators in 1981,” I cried out above the din of my colleagues chatting among themselves during the in-service, “I might’ve amounted to something. I could’ve been a contender! I could’ve been doing this thing right all these years!”

To my beloved new colleagues whose generous spirits have softly beckoned them into these unfriendly waters – infested not so much with sharks as with ill-tempered ducks – I cannot blame you if you stay up late at night studying and memorizing the Marzano Indicators and practicing as many as possible in front of body-length mirrors.

But as you proceed through Marzano’s “Domains” and “Lesson Segments” and “Design Questions,” doesn’t it feel as if your gold has been turned into straw?

My gold appeared decades ago – possibly before Hank was even born – when a teacher’s deep love for the words imprinted on the wispy, onionskin-thin pages of the Norton Anthology of British Literature inspired me to follow his gaze to those pages and follow my heart to a life of teaching and learning. Then, as I’ve recorded in an earlier post, my journey almost immediately took me into the presence of another mentor who gave me, not 60 indicators, but 1 simple maxim that “You can’t teach’em if you don’t love’m.”

You most likely have a similar story. Don’t abandon it. Repeat it to yourself like a mantra throughout the endless holiday workshops ahead. Don’t let the soullessness of this enforced quantification of a most human gift sour your resolve to do what you love. Stay with what brought you here and you’ll be nurturing and encouraging students long after Marzano’s obnoxious little checklist has been deposited into the dust bin of pedagogical history.

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