TPAs, Levels, and Other Fun Things

Dear Protege:

I felt so badly for your student–can you imagine if no one treated YOU any differently on your birthday? I know I would be pretty miserable–why do we expect more from our students? You did the exact right thing, of course; you made her feel special because you took the time to care. Teenagers aren’t born with bad attitudes–it takes years of breaking their little hearts down before they become the seemingly uncaring, surly creatures we are sometimes faced with. Whenever I have to deal with a particularly negative student, I always picture him or her as a happy, toddling two year-old, full of life’s promise, and remind myself that some kids have bigger burdens than others.

As for your TPA, yes, they can be scary in theory, but don’t stress too much about it. The administrator who visits your classroom will be looking for very specific things. First and foremost, the rapport you have with your class will count for a great deal. Within 30 seconds, the atmosphere will be noted, and the VP will be looking for a sense that the kids feel comfortable with you, and that there are expectations for behaviour that are being met. Also important is the “second teacher” in the room–the four walls. What’s on the walls? Student work, anchor charts, interesting things to look at? In other words, do the walls show that you care about the state of the classroom? Nothing screams apathy more than bare bulletin boards. Finally, the adminstrator who visits will be interested in the content of the lesson. Remember, it doesn’t have to be anything earth-shattering, but it should incorporate a variety of strategies, demonstrate organization, and be student-centred. You’ll get to pick the day and choose what the lesson will be–as we get closer to the day, I’ll help you with all that.

Levels. Why do we use them? Personally, I use them for diagnostic and formative assessment only, and for peer and self-assessment. Anything summative should be measured in percentages.  Until the day that universities, colleges, and apprentice programs want us to report in levels, I’ll be giving my students percentage marks. That’s reality–there are standards that we have to uphold, because we don’t exist in a vacuum. This is what differentiates us from camp counsellors. Sure, I’d love to play rah rah dodgeball or make friendship bracelets all day, and just tell kids orally that “they’re doing great!!”, but that wouldn’t make me much of a educator, would it? And neither would refusing to give marks, or levels, or use evaluation tools like rubrics and success criteria. Personally, I’m very happy that the last surgeon who operated on me needed a particular mark to get into medical school and was held to a very high standard, instead of just being told he was “doing great”. 🙂

Here’s a question for you. Have you been giving any thought to long-term career plans/goals? What are they? Where do you see yourself in ten years? And on that note, have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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