A Metaphorical Digression

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe, as does Lee Shulman (1987) that evaluation is an important aspect of the teaching process.   I guess that is my point.  Evaluation, as he defines it is performed before, during, and after interacting with students, both to assess student understanding to determine how to refine our practice.  It is an integral part of teaching, embedded into our daily lives with students.  When we lay standardized testing over classrooms as the main indicator of effectiveness,  it becomes like a giant wet blanket that can smother all the fire of teaching and learning.  As I read this simile, it seems a bit melodramatic, but perhaps melodrama is what we need in this country to through off this heavy, oppressive mantle.   And believe me, I can see the danger in using fire metaphorically when referring to classrooms.  Fire can do a lot of damage, but it can also be restorative to a forest. It can end lives, but it can also offer a fresh start.  It can purify, and it can destroy.  It can draw us into meditation and peace, and it can terrify us.  But it is, in the end, energetic and transformative.  Mystics speak of internal fire, the spark of life.  When we talk of passion, we talk of fire.

My wise son, in a brief comment, reminded me of why teachers need to rekindle their relationship  with evaluation.  I was grousing about the house, fully trying to avoid grading a stack of graduate papers.  As I descended the steps to the study, bemoaning the fact that I’d rather be riding my bicycle, he said, “But, Mom, aren’t you excited to find out what your students learned?”  With one question, he had reminded me about why I have loved my work for a little over four decades.  I love to see students, of all ages, interpret our experiences together.  What I had gotten tangled up in was the bureaucracy of what I was required to do—derive a grade—rather than rejoice in and learn from my students’ thinking.  Our educational resources should be used to help teachers create ways to recognize, analyze, and showcase student learning, rather than sending them on continual error hunts.  The problem becomes not to bring teachers in line with assessments but to help them be better evaluators, to fully engage us, and our students, in reflecting on our learning.

Maybe this book can offer some insight:  Lighting Their Fires: Raising Extraordinary Children in a Mixed-up, Muddled-up, Shook-up World (Bargain Price) by Rafe Esquith (Author)


One thought on “A Metaphorical Digression

  1. Jeremy Weed says:

    I love the fire metaphor. I think that the idea of lighting a fire signals change. In the educational world change must be constant. Every day students learn new things and their knowledge pool expands. If one stand still they can find that they are no longer engaging their students so I say light a fire and see what new growth springs up from the undergrowth.

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