More on Teacher Autonomy

August 2nd, 2011

I would like to continue discussing teacher autonomy/responsibility this week and hopefully provoke others to share their thoughts on this subject. My summer months have been filled with professional development surrounding the Common Core State Standards. This has resulted in a collection of name badges, cheap book bags filled with hand-outs, schedules and free pens. Those hand-outs have included massive bound copies of the core, detailed pacing guides and links to online resources. It is clear that State and District officials have been hard at work providing teachers with everything they need to hit the ground running.

Reviewing the pacing guides I am impressed by their comprehensiveness. Teach this standard this day…assess the standard on that day using this formative assessment. Education’s version of plug-and-play. It is clear that an amazing amount of work has gone into the planning of these guides and assessments. These are well intentioned “experts” working hard to help teachers save time and improve their effectiveness. Why then do I feel so unappreciative of this work? Why do I feel like their intentions have more to do with control than benevolence?

The answer comes down to teacher responsibility and autonomy. If the State and/or District want to develop suggested pacing guides…great! If the State and/or District want to develop benchmark and formative assessments…great! I believe the line is crossed when those time-lines and tools become mandates. Certainly teachers have the responsibility to maintain proper core aligned pacing guides while using formative assessments to monitor their student’s progress. However, I believe teachers have the responsibility to determine their pacing, based on individual teaching-style and the students they serve relative to student performance on a multitude of formative assessments. To deny teachers the autonomy to address these responsibilities is maddening.

I believe the practice of using prescriptive curriculum maps, pacing guides and time-lines with cookie-cutter assessments undermines the true art of teaching. Teachers must balance the art and science of instructional practice and this is impossible with the remotely created, inflexible and unrealistic pacing guides, time-lines and assessments. I have watched teachers diligently work to stay on course, only to fall behind when a difficult concept demands more explanation and certain remediation. The appreciation for the pacing guides quickly gets replaced with frustration and feelings of failure.

I have heard high-level education officials question teachers’ capacity and ability to create quality formative assessments. This same lack of faith applies when they mandate prescriptive curriculum pacing guides. The underlying message being broadcast to our teachers is that they are not competent to do the most fundamental aspects of their job. Why bother asking teachers to subject themselves to the rigors of college and teacher preparation if we begin with the premise that they are incapable of actually doing the job for which they have earned a college degree? The growing belief that teachers lack the substance and skill required to meet the complex needs of their students without a carefully crafted script is insulting. It is also demoralizing to those who seek to modify their instruction based on the needs of the students in front of them…regardless of what the pacing guides might require.

At MasteryConnect we believe in teachers! We believe that teacher created formative assessments are best and that teachers should be given the opportunity to share their assessments with others. A community of teachers working together to build and share quality assessments will ultimately create a body of work that will be unmatched anywhere. We believe teachers should be given the tools they need to monitor student performance relative to the core, collaborate with teachers all over the world, share assessments and effectively communicate student progress. Fundamentally, we believe teachers are professionals and they have earned the right to be granted the autonomy necessary to do their job.

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