Part I of II: Teacher Perspectives on the Resident Educator Summative Assessment
by Kate Gladieux, Spanish teacher of 5 years, Sylvania Education Association
The why… Teaching sailing
I got into the teaching profession because I grew up as a sailing instructor. I spent many days helping children overcome their fear of water and wind. I liked seeing the students conquer their fears. I decided to be a Spanish teacher for that same reason. Speaking in another language can often be very scary and seeing students break out of their shell and view the world in a whole new light was appealing to me. I’m very passionate about seeing my students succeed. As we all know, teaching is a marathon and not a sprint. This is my experience with required assessment for new teachers to move on to their professional license. It was like a marathon swim.
The before… The lifeboat is nearby!
It started out pretty grand. My first year as a Junior High Spanish teacher began just like any other — I’M JUST TRYING TO SURVIVE! Thankfully, I was assigned a mentor through the RESA (Resident Educator Summative Assessment) program. Yes, “resident” is meant to sound like pre-med students going through med school.
It was great! My mentor and I met regularly to discuss school issues. She helped me get through tough times, brainstorm about interesting situations with students, parents, and administration, and checked to make sure I knew my way around staff meetings. She was even there for me when my personal life got hard. We observed each other and learned things from each other. I felt I was growing AND helping someone else to grow. The first two years were about survival, but I had support and felt at least somewhat successful. The kids had learned something from me. And at least I had her as a lifeboat nearby.
The during… Plan. Re-plan. Teach. Grade. Reflect. Re-reflect. Eat? Sleep? Cry? Repeat!
Things quickly took a turn as I was no longer allowed to consult with my mentor during year 3 of RESA. I felt prepared and extremely confident, but I was treading water on my own. No life boat nearby this time. The support was gone and I must navigate myself to dry land by swimming what felt like a long, long distance. I could barely see land! The final assessment (marathon) had arrived. The days with lack of sleep, food, and exercise were taken over by the preparation of lessons, assessments, professional development, parent contact, among others that result in four long tasks to complete. I feel as though I could write a book on the time I spent attempting to present my best self to the Ohio Department of Education and some strange company called Educopia.
The long story short version includes these thoughts:
- I work hard on my lessons out of my passion to see my students succeed and often create my own. Now it seemed there was not a lot of room for error. We were to record two video clips of lesson cycles (one in the fall and the other before Feb. 15).
- The assessors (who were supposedly teachers from the Ohio Department of Education) use TWELVE rubrics to grade EACH lesson cycle. With each lesson we were asked an overwhelming amount of prompts to explain our reasoning for everything we did. We were not told what a passing grade was, but we were provided the 12 rubrics to base our responses.
- For each question, our responses had to be fewer than 200 words. I found it extremely difficult to get in everything they required on the rubrics with so few words. It started to feel like I needed to be a veteran, perfect performing teacher in order to pass. I am always up for a challenge and I like to better myself in my career, however the additional workload of RESA made day-to-day life a lot more stressful than the ordinary stress I was used to experiencing.
- There were four tasks in total. The other two include “Communication and Professional Development”, “Formative and Summative Assessment” and just as many rubrics. The time to 1) plan, 2) replan, 3) incorporate, 4) reflect, and 5) respond to the prompts took away countless days, weeks, and months from my actual unit planning — and of course that “life” I was trying to have. Trying to type responses with about 30 rubrics in mind during each of the steps for each task was like trying to swim the butterfly in four foot waves while being chased by piranhas. I came up with a great performance! But it was stressful, exhausting, and I never want to do it again. My “free time” thoughts throughout the evenings and weekends were consumed with “how can I make all of these rubrics fit together,” a jigsaw puzzle with 1000 pieces.
- I also spent countless hours double checking my documents and videotapes that I uploaded as evidence. There are many ways to be disqualified with these types of evidence co-decided upon by Educopia and the Ohio Department of Education. I studied every crevice of every piece of evidence, photo scanned and re-photo scanned, and whited out all Personal Identifiable Information from every parent, teacher, and student from every piece until oops I missed dinner again.
- As I approached the final submission date, I wondered if I would feel a sense of relief after hitting that “turn in” button on my computer. I swam really hard to reach the shore for the first six months of school. When I finally hit “submit” I did not feel relief. I did not make it safely to shore. In fact I was trapped just outside the surf with another four months to wait for my results. I would tread water until June 1st.
The after… The piranhas are still there.
School was ending and as you know it’s a busy time of year. I spent the first weekend finishing up my exam grades. I tried to relax and see the friends that I had neglected throughout the year because of RESA once school was finally over. I was even distracted enough that I almost forget about my RESA score, until I realized at 1:00 am on the day they would be posted, that they might already be online. In a panic I grabbed my phone to check the results. There they were! It wasn’t the result I was hoping for. The waves quickly drowned me, as I felt like the biggest failure on the planet. I called my old mentor along with some new ones to try to figure out what had happened and what I could do.
I did not fail the task because of my ability, but because the upload of a document appeared a little fuzzy to the assessor. I had been disqualified because one out of my 40 some pages of evidence had some light student handwriting that the assessor deemed “illegible” and therefore ungradable. The hours, days, and weeks I had spent on that particular task did not even get a second look because of a few lines. This became confusing to me because I had uploaded a TON of other evidence along with my responses to the many prompts and rubrics to showcase that I could accomplish that task. Couldn’t this be rectified with a resubmit? This did not ease my sense of failure as I thought to myself, “this is the biggest humiliation”. I now seem like an incompetent teacher because of a disqualification due to a software issue. This would mean I would need to retake this entire task the following year — and everyone would know! There were still a few piranhas chasing me and I could not relax.
Months later… Did I ever make it to shore?
It’s about 4 months after I first looked at my results. The first two months I could not shake the feeling of devastation. I kept having flashbacks of my evenings and weekends of stress and uncertainty. I relived the dread I had felt toward my profession, not the joy I felt with my mentor. In the last month, the RESA program was changed due to a large push of educators asking for the RESA program to be revoked. Unfortunately, many other new teachers experienced the same results that I had and they pushed for a change to be made.
Did this assessment truly prepare new teachers? Or did it discourage most from entering the already struggling occupation to begin with? The shame that I still feel must be clear from what I have shared here. I am still wading in the water, as the changes that were made put me in a sort of limbo for this school year. I have yet to be informed of what I must complete to obtain my next license. I am proud of the changes that have been made for upcoming teachers. Our voices were heard. I can only hope that this program gives new teachers the confidence and tiny bit of recognition that we so crave (am I doing a good job?).
The four tasks I was asked to complete have been spread out over four years and only one task will be the final assessment, while the others are able to be worked on together with a mentor. At least that’s the last I’ve heard. Even though I’m still wading through the water I am trying to be even more present with my students, friends, family, coworkers, bosses, and myself. After all, it will be me at the finish line everyone remembers, not my scanned PDFs, lessons, and 15 minute video clip.
Learn more about changes to Ohio’s Resident Educator Program