It’s three weeks into virtual teaching, and I’m already tired of the first unit on Economic Theory. Being a few days behind coupled with the fact that the next unit on Personal Finance is far more exciting and interesting, I’m just going to give the unit 1 test on Economic Theory this week. In the past, this might have seemed like poor teaching, but it feels like great leadership these days.
Two weeks ago, my boss, Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent Daryl Williams, announced that teachers would return to classrooms on October 19th. A week later, Maryland’s Governor Larry Hogan, said that fall sports could resume next month too. Just days ago, Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis opened restaurants across his state to full capacity and effectively nullified local ordinances requiring people to wear masks.
It’s leadership like this that guides my decision to test students this week.
Like these leaders, I just want to be back doing what I enjoy, teaching personal finance. It’s more applicable and relevant. It’s more fun, and the kids like it better than talking about factor markets and determinants of supply and demand. My whole classroom community is going to be better off.
Normally, a teacher’s decision about when to test is prefaced by a lot of planning and evaluation of student progress. Teachers spend weeks monitoring and responding to student progress so that testing can be successful.
To be fair, I haven’t done much of that planning in coming to this decision. It’s more of a hunch, which after watching the leaders above confirms that I’m finally getting things right. These guys haven’t made planning or logic or data a part of their process, and I understand; it’s a lot of work to analyze and evaluate data to make quality decisions. Teachers have been bemoaning the exhaustion and stress that comes from such an approach to decision making for years. Seeing these leaders cast aside such a process is heartening, and I won’t be one to ignore their example.
Now, to Governor Hogan’s–and a few other leader’s–credit he has talked about shrinking numbers of infections and hospitalizations in many of his decisions to reopen the state’s schools and economy. It’s not a plan so much as a list of positive things going on.
Following this lead, attendance has been strong, participation decent, and student submissions have been timely. All this is good news, and I’m using it as justification to push on with testing.
I know. Some elitist teachers might point out that there are other metrics to consider before testing, like whether or not the students’ submissions reflect actual learning, or if all the standards have been taught. Nonsense. Similar to how society will be better off with bars open and athletes back on the pitch, if I can get my kids talking about personal finance, lives will improve.
These elitist teachers are the ones who normally plan and outline a series of checkpoints prior to testing their students. They’ll rattle off stressful stuff like designing and assigning formative assessments and providing feedback. That sounds wonderful, but it also requires a willingness to engage in ongoing evaluation, revision, slowing down, and even backtracking with regards to the plan. Everyone would do well to remember that the goal is to get to personal finance, that’s what will make everyone’s life better. The best-laid plans simply impede that goal.
Besides, as teachers know, it’s hard to stick to such a detailed, outcome-oriented path. Unforeseen obstacles present themselves and contingencies have to be put in place. Sleep can be lost and nerves frayed. In light of that upheaval, it’s tough to keep a large group focused on a goal. So, when governors and superintendents cite a desire to get back to normal, to get the economy moving, to get kids in schools, teachers have to be willing to adjust their practices too. Instead of worrying about benchmarks and the steps along the journey, teachers should be better leaders and plow forward as needed. If one ignores an obstacle, it ceases to be an obstacle.
The entire approach to Covid-19 reopenings has been a breath of fresh air for this bone-weary teacher. The ability to point to a few metrics or none at all like Superintendent Williams, devoid of any sort of logical benchmarks or pre-determined indicators in making decisions eases my burden. Worries about planning and gauging student progress have evaporated.
By setting arbitrary dates for reopening, folks like Governor DeSantis and Hogan give teachers like me hope. We’ve been doing it all wrong for years. We need to stop worrying when kids aren’t where we want them to be, or when our plans require re-teaching. None of that matters. Just test them and be done with it!
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