Middle School Is Just Like High School

Photo: ©2011 Columbia Tristar Marketing Group, Inc.

I teach at a middle school in the Bronx. I’d heard about the possible release of the TDR scores [results from a student-testing-based city teacher-rating system] a while ago, but I kind of thought the whole thing had gone away. It really wasn’t on my radar. Then they put the numbers out.

The next day, Saturday, I woke up to an e-mail from a close buddy and former colleague. He was bitching about how he got an average score and how some guy he works with who can’t teach for shit got a 95. I felt bad for him—he busts his ass every day. He gets to school at five in the morning and leaves at six at night.

I started looking up everybody else’s scores. I couldn’t help it. On Sunday I called a co-worker, and we stayed on the phone for half an hour looking up the scores of all our colleagues. Some surprised us, some didn’t. One guy we work with got a seventeen [percentile score]. He’s an eleven-year veteran. I knew he was bad, but seventeen is awful.

First thing Monday morning at school, news of the scores was ­everywhere. An older math consultant–instructional coach was ­especially caught up in the gossip. She even called me to chat about a ­particularly high mark received by a past lover of mine. More power to my ex, but take it with a grain of salt. She only taught for two years, and one was Bloomberg’s reelection year, when it seemed like every kid in the system passed with flying colors.

When I asked the math consultant if she knew what the numbers meant, she said, “I have no idea, but they sound good.” I noted that the margin of error was 53 percentage points [in English; it’s 35 points in math]. She said, “You can still use it when you look for a job, because that’s all they’re gonna look at.”

One of the best veteran teachers at our school refused to even peek at her or anyone else’s scores. The woman has a code, and I really believe she didn’t know nor would she have cared that she scored really well. That is, until I told her.

I also listened in on another woman’s rant. She was blabbering away about how the real reason the reports got released stemmed from some higher-up’s wanting to “get back at the teachers” because he got a bad review when he was a teacher back in the day. To each his own, I suppose.

Anyway, now the guy with the seventeen is getting avoided like the plague. It’s not his score so much as people just not knowing what to say to the dude. They feel bad, but they don’t know how to broach the subject. What are you supposed to say?

My rating was well above average, but I’m still against publishing this stuff. I thought these ratings were meant to help teachers, not shame them. If one of my students gets a bad test grade, I sit down with him—I don’t post a 23 on the bulletin board. At the same time, I gotta be honest. When I’m walking around the school now and pass another teacher’s room, I definitely think of their number.

As told to Andrei Berman.

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Middle School Is Just Like High School