A Principal’s Evaluation of My Teaching Basic French, or: How to Oppress a Worker Through Performance Evaluation, Part Four

The following is the fourth of several posts that provide a verbatim reply (with a somewhat different order) to a “clinical evaluation” (a performance evaluation of my teaching) made by the principal of Ashern Central School (Ashern, Manitoba, Canada), Neil MacNeil, in the fall of 2011 when I was teaching grades 6, 7 and 8 French.

I provided Mr. MacNeil’s assessment grade by grade in separate posts, followed by my reflections (response).  In other words, the performance evaluation of the three grades was distributed over three posts.

Four further posts follow that include performance evaluation criteria in Domain I (Professional Responsibilities), Domain II (Educational Environments), Domain III (Teaching and Learning) and Domain IV (Professional Relationships). It also includes my “Teacher’s response.” 

This post deals with the performance evaluation criteria of Domain I (Professional Responsibilities).

When I refer to “see above” in some of the posts, it refers to previous posts in this series, such as   A Principal’s Evaluation of My Teaching Basic French, or: How to Oppress a Worker Through Performance Evaluation, Part One.

The radical left should expose both what management does and how it does it. Discussion of the situation that various kinds of employees face need to be openly discussed, but to do that it is necessary to expose, in a transparent way, managerial behaviour.

Lakeshore School Division

Teacher Clinical Evaluation Report

Teacher: Fred Harris
School: Ashern Central School
Subject/Grade: MY French; ELA Trans. Focus 30S; SY Support

The teacher and administrator will review Administrative Regulations and Procedures Evaluation Process-Professional Staff (2.3)

Re: “Domain 1: Professional Responsibilities

1a Demonstrating knowledge of curriculum content and pedagogy

1b. Demonstrating knowledge of students

1c. Selecting appropriate instructional goals

1d. Demonstrating knowledge of resources

1e. Effective Instructional Design

1f. Assessment of Student Learning

1g. Maintaining accurate records

Administrator’s Comments

Fred has a strong command of the French language, in both written and verbal communication. This series of observations did not indicate his level of knowledge of the curricula set out by Manitoba Education. The instructional goals identified during the observations did correlate with goals set out in these curricula, however.

The pedagogy to which Fred ascribes (at least as according to our conversations) presupposes a level of motivation to learn and pursue a second language which he identifies as being lacking in most of his students. This has repeatedly been identified by Fred as an issue – that his students do not value the learning of French, and that it is therefore almost futile to be attempting to force them to learn the language. I have not identified any means by which Fred has successfully fostered an appropriate level of motivation in spite of the factors he’s identified as limiting this motivation. So, we are left with a situation where he believes that the students do not (for the most part) want to learn French, where he’s been unsuccessful in changing that situation, and where he therefore believes that their learning is necessarily restricted.

Earlier this year, it was made clear to Fred that a key element that appeared to be lacking was the formation of effective, empathetic relationships with the students in his classes. He has attempted to rectify this by engaging in question and answer sessions with them at the beginning of the class, wherein students ask him a question, he translates the question into French, and then responds in both French and English. It is not evident that this has led to a more effective relationship between Fred and his students. It is also not evident that this simple “exposure” to spoken French is leading to any learning of the language, as the dialogue from the students’ perspective is entirely in English – the spoken French, by Fred, seems to be ignored. To the extent that Fred has demonstrated a knowledge of his students, as persons and as learners, it would seem that the view is largely negative. For example, when we held our postconference after the 3rd observation (grade 8 French), and I asked Fred about the 5 girls who comprised this class, he described to me in turn why each of them was not an effective learner in his class. When I went further by asking how this situation had come about, he went back to the experience of earlier years, where he identified two other students (since discontinued in French) who had “poisoned” the other students’ attitudes toward French and toward himself.

At the beginning of this process, individual lessons were based upon the completion of identified tasks. Fred has resisted the notion that specific learning goals for students should be clarified and shared with students, but has begun to take some steps in this direction. As stated earlier, there is no evidence (and none identified by Fred during our postconferences) that the questioning back and forth between Fred and the students at the beginning of classes has led to any learning by the students. Although learning goals have begun to be identified, it has not been observed that any significant movement toward attaining these goals has been made during observed classes. For example, the second observation (grade 7) was meant to increase student competence in using possessive adjectives. As an observer, it was not clear that students understood this to be the lesson’s focus, nor did they demonstrate any increased competence or confidence in the use of the adjectives or any other aspect of using the French language.

Fred has not indicated any significant understanding of either the importance of formative assessment during a class, nor of how to effectively carry out the process. When I’ve questioned how Fred would know whether students are progressing effectively in their use of French, Fred has repeatedly referred to the subsequent use of summative assessments (at some future date) as indicating this progress. No means of encouraging or facilitating student self or peer assessment is present either. A significant emphasis within the MY French curricula is to facilitate an appreciation of French culture and language in students’ affective domain. When this has been raised, Fred has appealed (as previously noted) to the obstacles in the way of increasing this appreciation of French, and has not been able to supply any means by which this is being increased. Indeed, there appears to be a significant decline in students’ attitudes toward their French lessons from the grade 6 to the grade 8 levels in Fred’s classes. In the grade 6 class, some students are smiling, spontaneous and enthusiastic. This declines in the grade 7 class, and in grade 8 there were no smiles, and what seemed to be a complete lack of spontaneity and enthusiasm.

Teacher’s Reflections 

Re: “The pedagogy to which Fred ascribes (at least as according to our conversations) presupposes a level of motivation to learn and pursue a second language which he identifies as being lacking in most of his students.”

I believe that I have already addressed this issue.

Re: “This has repeatedly been identified by Fred as an issue – that his students do not value the learning of French, and that it is therefore almost futile to be attempting to force them to learn the language.”

I certainly view the forcing of learning French language to children many of whose lives at home are probably characterized by poverty to be oppressive and relatively meaningless for many of them—as I experienced when I was growing up.

Re: “I have not identified any means by which Fred has successfully fostered an appropriate level of motivation in spite of the factors he’s identified as limiting this motivation. So, we are left with a situation where he believes that the students do not (for the most part) want to learn French, where he’s been unsuccessful in changing that situation, and where he therefore believes that their learning is necessarily restricted.”

I have addressed this issue above.

Re: “Earlier this year, it was made clear to Fred that a key element that appeared to be lacking was the formation of effective, empathetic relationships with the students in his classes.”

I have displayed considerable empathy in trying to see the behaviour in the context of many students’ lives; I certainly do not consider throwing an airplane to be outrageous behaviour. To claim that I lacked empathy with students is an unfortunate misreading of situations.

Re: “He has attempted to rectify this by engaging in question and answer sessions with them at the beginning of the class, wherein students ask him a question, he translates the question into French, and then responds in both French and English. It is not evident that this has led to a more effective relationship between Fred and his students. It is also not evident that this simple “exposure” to spoken French is leading to any learning of the language, as the dialogue from the students’ perspective is entirely in English – the spoken French, by Fred, seems to be ignored. To the extent that Fred has demonstrated a knowledge of his students, as persons and as learners, it would seem that the view is largely negative. For example, when we held our postconference after the 3rd observation (grade 8 French), and I asked Fred about the 5 girls who comprised this class, he described to me in turn why each of them was not an effective learner in his class. When I went further by asking how this situation had come about, he went back to the experience of earlier years, where he identified two other students (since discontinued in French) who had “poisoned” the other students’ attitudes toward French and toward himself.”

Note the exclusive reliance on the relation to the grade 8 class as an example. An example implies something typical, and the situation with the grade 8 class is atypical.

I had tried, with the grade 8 class, the method of asking and answering questions, but they did not respond well.

Re: “At the beginning of this process, individual lessons were based upon the completion of identified tasks. Fred has resisted the notion that specific learning goals for students should be clarified and shared with students, but has begun to take some steps in this direction.”

I have already addressed  above the issue of tasks (from a Deweyan perspective, concrete goals for students) and learning goals (from a Deweyan perspective, the means towards concrete goals).

As stated earlier, there is no evidence (and none identified by Fred during our postconferences) that the questioning back and forth between Fred and the students at the beginning of classes has led to any learning by the students.”

See above.

Although learning goals have begun to be identified, it has not been observed that any significant movement toward attaining these goals has been made during observed classes. For example, the second observation (grade 7) was meant to increase student competence in using possessive adjectives. As an observer, it was not clear that students understood this to be the lesson’s focus, nor did they demonstrate any increased competence or confidence in the use of the adjectives or any other aspect of using the French language.”

See above.

Re: Fred has not indicated any significant understanding of either the importance of formative assessment during a class, nor of how to effectively carry out the process. When I’ve questioned how Fred would know whether students are progressing effectively in their use of French, Fred has repeatedly referred to the subsequent use of summative assessments (at some future date) as indicating this progress.”

I certainly agree that my formative assessment skills can be honed—like any other skill. To claim, however, that I fail to understand the importance of formative assessment a complete lack of understanding of my position and provides further evidence of the preformed conclusions of the administrator about my beliefs. In the University Laboratory School (also known as the Dewey School), as far as I have been able to determine, there was nothing but formative assessment. This feature of the school caused some difficulties when the students were to prepare for college entrance, but provision was made for addressing the issue:

The oldest members of this united group (who normally would have been classified as Group XII) were given special tutoring and review courses in preparation for their college board examinations, which were complicating the program. Had the group consisted solely of those who had followed the consecutively developing program of the school, and had it not been hampered by the demands of college entrance examinations, the various courses for the oldest children doubtless would have followed a far different and more logical plan, hints of which appear in the records” (Camp & Edwards, 1936/1966, p. 237).

Since the Dewey School was designed to be an experimental school, where hypotheses were formulated about the best conditions for learning, tested and modified, depending on the circumstances. Since no summative assessment was performed until the later years, and only then for the purpose of preparing the students for entry into college, it can be inferred that formative assessment was an ideal ground for learning.

On the other hand, the principal simply did not bother to delve deeper into my beliefs. His evident disdain for my beliefs and his evident drawing of conclusions without any process of objective inquiry prevented him from understanding what we share in common.

Furthermore, the implied claim that I do not understand the importance of the present moment rather than the future misses entirely my position.

From my dissertation:

Dewey, by contrast, considers that the prehistoric pattern of mind still functions, though in modified form, in present conditions and that it has some positive attributes. One of the major positive attributes for Dewey is the capacity to focus on the present situation. For Dewey, the present is where the life process centers, and the past and future are relative to the living present. The past divorced from the present is dead, and the future divorced from the present is fantasy.1

Dewey gives the example of hunting in prehistoric times (1902/1976e). He outlines what differentiates it from other modes of living or acting. It is much less concerned with the mediation process or the objective side of the relationship between human beings and their environment. Its focus has more to do with the subjective side of the life process, and the subjective side, or the animate term of the life process, is always a living present. The concerns of prehistoric peoples are largely related to the personal side and not to the impersonal side of the life process. The rhythm of life is characterized by a tension that is personally felt; the stages of the life process focus on the personal at the expense of the objective. This mode of the life process is characterized by the drama, where superficiality in the treatment of phenomena is compensated by the degree of intensity of the emotions and the sharpness of attention in the use of the senses for the purpose of enhancing the personal side, such as increased acquisition and display of skills.

This personal aspect of the life process is preserved in the modern life process in the form of the “pursuit of truth, plot interest, business adventure and speculation, to all intense and active forms of amusement, to gambling and the `sporting life’” (1902/1976e, 45). Educationally, Dewey uses the hunting occupation as a model by which to criticize various theories and practices that purport to be educational but which violate the principle of the life process centering on the present and its potentialities and possibilities. In chapter five of Democracy and education (1916/1980a), for example, Dewey refers to education as preparation. This way of defining education is still prevalent in modern schools—preparation for obtaining a job, for further studies and so forth. The activity engaged in by the child is supposed to be useful in the future rather than functional now. Since the use of a structure is an integral part in the formation of the structure—function mediates structure—then the separation of the formation of the structure from its use in the vague future leads to ineffective and distorted structures that do not effectively contribute to the living present, either now or in the future.

Education needs to be preparation for confrontation of the present situation, which includes the past as relevant to the identification of the nature of the present problematic situation and to the future as the hypothesized solution to the present situation. The present, however, is still the focus since it is only the tension within the present life process that converts the past into something relevant or meaningful to the present, and the future potentialities of present conditions are likewise only meaningful in relation to the present life process:

Men are engaged neither in mechanical transposition of the conditions they have inherited, nor yet in simply preparing for something to come after. They have their own problems to solve; their own adaptations to make. They face the future, but for the sake of the present, not the future. In using what has come to them as an inheritance from the past they are compelled to modify it to meet their own needs, and this process creates a new present in which the process continues. (1938/1986, 238)

When the potentialities of the present situation are divorced from the formation of structures, then something external to the present must be attached to present behaviour—rewards and punishment. There is little wonder that Skinner’s concept of reinforcement, which focuses on the provision of an external reward having little to do with the activity, forms an essential component of the school system—the latter operates on an impoverished notion of education as preparation.

For Dewey, then, prehistoric life has something to teach us—the importance of the present as the locus for the relevance of the past and the future. Education is not preparation for some possible experience in the vague future. Freire’s philosophy, it is true, escapes some of the problems associated with defining education as preparation by incorporating some of the present problems of the peasants into the curriculum, but Freire’s abstraction from the life process a such prevents him from appreciating the positive aspect of prehistoric life and from incorporating those positive aspects into his educational philosophy and practice.

The Deweyan educational model incorporates the appreciation for the present living process whereas the Freirean model, though not excluding it, does not integrate it in the form of an appreciation of prehistoric life. Freire’s model, despite the emphasis on subjectivity, ironically, veers more towards the objective moment by treating prehistoric life as a stage to be overcome rather than a stage that is one-sided and that hence requires to be balanced by a more stable process of control of the objective conditions for human experience.”

On the other hand, I do recognize that there is often a conflict between formative and summative assessment. Summative assessment is important at the public level, for other institutions, for example, as well as for scholarships (in Deweyan terms, it is education for preparation—which Dewey adamantly criticized). There is a conflict between the importance of formative assessment, which is designed for improving learning, and summative assessment, which is designed for other purposes. The different purposes easily come into conflict.

I am in total agreement with the principal concerning the importance of formative assessment in the process of learning.

Re: “No means of encouraging or facilitating student self or peer assessment is present either.”

Agreed. It is something that I should incorporate into the process.

Re: “A significant emphasis within the MY French curricula is to facilitate an appreciation of French culture and language in students’ affective domain. When this has been raised, Fred has appealed (as previously noted) to the obstacles in the way of increasing this appreciation of French, and has not been able to supply any means by which this is being increased.”

I have addressed the issue of culture above and an appreciation of French in relation to the students’ own language.

Re: “Indeed, there appears to be a significant decline in students’ attitudes toward their French lessons from the grade 6 to the grade 8 levels in Fred’s classes. In the grade 6 class, some students are smiling, spontaneous and enthusiastic. This declines in the grade 7 class, and in grade 8 there were no smiles, and what seemed to be a complete lack of spontaneity and enthusiasm.”

The administrator’s characterization of the level of motivation as progressively lacking as grades increase is not my reading of the situation. I would say that the grade 6s are more motivated to learn than the grade 8s, with the grade 7s more motivated than the grade 6s or grade 8s.

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