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Received

Donnie Dicus Assessment, Current Affairs, Education Policy, Elementary, Life in the Classroom

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Recently, Secretary of Education Betsy Devos stated that many teachers are in “receive mode’ and are “waiting to be told what to do.” Many teacher advocates became ablaze with outrage as they decried this statement. I understand how many are offended by this idea. Teachers are not lazy nor are we all sitting around on our thumbs waiting for someone to tell us what to do. However, there is some truth to what was said.

First of all, it is my career goal to be in receiving mode but not the receiving mode that Devos implied. There’s a plethora of things that I would like to receive as an educator. I would like to receive a salary that is comparable to professionals in other fields with my level of education and experience. I want to receive appropriate funding for the students in my state. I want to receive respect and support from the voters and the Legislature in Arizona. I want to receive praise for all of the hard work and accomplishments that we get out of our students. I want to receive professional development that is fitted towards my needs and not a ‘one size fits all’ model. I want to receive a spot at the table when discussions are being held about policies that affect my career. I want to receive the ability to make decisions that directly impact the students in my classroom. For now, these are all pipes dreams. Maybe one day though….

However, I am ashamed to admit she was right about my current reality. I and many of my colleagues are in receiving mode. AZ Merit is quickly approaching. If my third graders do not achieve a passing score, they will not be promoted to 4th grade. My site looked at our district wide data at a staff meeting this past week. According to our district assessments, my school is expected to receive a D rating based on our performance on AZ Merit. Currently, we are rated a B school. That’s quite the drop. My district is extremely concerned that this will make our schools look like they are failing. We know that parents are concerned about this. And we are fearful that in this day and age of choice, that parents will move our students to one of the numerous charter schools in our city. A reduction in students will drastically decrease the amount of funding we receive which will cause teachers to fearful of losing their positions. Can you see the downward spiral?

The receiving mode I am in is caused by sheer exhaustion. I am exhausted from trying to do the best I can for my students just to be told that the data is not showing results so I need to change what I’m doing. Then a few weeks later, having the same conversation and changing things again. And again. And again. This focus on data and on AZ merit has made me feel completely ineffective as an educator. I feel like I am spinning my wheels and don’t know how to fix it. I know my students are learning but the assessments that are required are not showing it. If I can’t make my own instructional decisions for my classroom, then please tell me what I need to do to measure up to a tool that I have no control over; a tool that fails to accurately measure all the learning that happens in my classroom. How can I move out of the receiving mode I am stuck in to the receiving mode I yearn for?

 

Donnie Dicus

Tucson, Arizona

My name is Donnie Dicus and I have been teaching in Arizona for 12 years. I came to Arizona from Southern Illinois to attend the University of Arizona in Tucson. I graduated in 2003 and began teaching second grade. I taught second grade in Tucson for 8 years before moving to Phoenix. I now teach third grade. I achieved National Board Certification in 2012 and I received my Master's Degree from Grand Canyon University in 2015. I achieved a National Board Certificate in Middle Childhood Generalist in 2012. I’ve been teaching mainstream and SEI 3rd grade classrooms in the Cartwright School District in Phoenix since 2013. I taught 2nd grade and was a math interventionist in Tucson in the Amphitheater School District. I’ve been a technology coach and have helped teachers apply technology to improve instruction. I facilitate coaching cohorts for teachers going through the National Board process and organize peer groups at my site to pair new teachers with experienced teachers. In 2010 I was nominated as a Rodel Semi-Finalist for Exemplary teaching in 2010 and featured as a Teacher Leader in February 2016 by the Arizona K12 Center. I have class pictures of every single student I have taught behind my desk on my wall. After 12 years, that is approximately 350 students. My students know that this is my Wall of Accomplishments. I am so proud of the difference I made in their lives. I became a teacher to make a difference and I strive to do so every day.

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  • http://www.leadfromINtheclassroom.com/ Jess Ledbetter

    Great blog. Unfortunately, I think that teachers and districts are all in the “receiving” mode of scores and titles that don’t actually indicate how we are serving kids. According to authors like Berliner & Glass (in 50 Myths & Lies that Threaten To Destroy Public Schools in America), standardized tests produce scores that are more indicative of factors like SES status, home life, and other factors for kids. Only 10% of the score can be controlled by teachers and schools. Standardized tests aren’t dependable measures of teacher or school performance because the same teacher (who is supposedly getting better at teaching each year) can have scores that jump around year to year. In Berliner’s book “Collateral Damage,” he talks about the many damaging effects of standardized testing to label kids, teachers, and schools–but I think you’ve brought up the one that’s worst of all: When educators worry and question their own practices, it creates frustration and attrition in the field. I think it’s time for us to get out of receiving mode when it comes to test scores. It’s like playing the lottery and no one ever knows who is going to win and lose. We shouldn’t use these labels to demoralize teachers, schools, and kids–or create worry in our community. Instead, we should focus on more dependable measures of learning that support teachers in their instruction, communicate actual learning to kids/families, and reinforce quality instruction instead of creating doubt. Great points. Hope things work out well for your school when you “roll the dice” in a few months.

  • http://storiesfromschoolaz.org Amethyst Hinton Sainz

    I can relate to the sense of exhaustion, desperation and anger in your blog.