Monday, September 30, 2013

"How Does Data Drive Your Instruction?"

"How does data drive your instruction?"

I was interviewing for a job teaching instrumental music in a highly-regarded mid-Atlantic school system when I first heard this question. I was prepared for things like, "Tell me about your strengths and weaknesses," and "How have you used technology in your classroom?" (I have to admit I laughed out loud at that one, as in many cases I was lucky to have a piano with 88 working keys, let alone one that was in tune - forget about technology!)

At the time, I made up an answer that probably clearly sounded to the interviewers - a music supervisor and a Human Resources staffer - that I had no clue what I was talking about. If that was their impression, they would not have been too far wrong.

Fast-forward two years to this past summer. I've had two intervening long-term vocal music substitute positions, and I'd already been passed over to fill one of them as a contract teacher because I hadn't yet gone through the vocal music interview, and there was another part-time opening at my neighborhood school which I figured would be the perfect supplement to my other part-time work, so I sucked it up and went in for that interview as well - although, to be honest, I wasn't holding out a lot of hope, having also been passed over for the instrumental music position at the same school, where I already knew the majority of the kids and would have been fairly easily able to run the instrumental music program.

Sure enough, there was that question again.

"How does data drive your instruction?"

OK, folks, I'm a MUSIC teacher. In a typical vocal music position here, the kind where kids come to "music class" all together, the school would schedule me with kids from 25-50 minutes per week, so even if there were no holidays, assemblies, field trips, or other circumstances that would preclude my seeing a class, I'd see kids in groups for less than an hour each week. I would have those 25-50 minutes to deliver a curriculum on a predetermined schedule and be responsible for assessments throughout the year. Music, along with the other arts, is one of the things that in my deep belief makes people HUMAN. HUMANITY drives my instruction. The love of making music individually and collectively, of performing and creating and moving to music, the sheer joy of music - THAT drives my instruction.

"How does data drive your instruction?"

It DOESN'T. And it NEVER. EVER. will. NEVER. It simply cannot drive my instruction. It *can* inform my instruction; it can show me places where I need to spend more time on this or that concept or activity, or it can highlight shortcomings I need to address. But DRIVE my instruction?

Never. Not as a music teacher, and I don't think it would drive it as a teacher of a regular academic (non-arts) subject, either. My students are not "data points" to me. My children are not "data points," except perhaps to the forces currently trying to re-shape public education, to distill it into manageable data that can be used to drive instruction. And I highly doubt that my children are "data points" to their teachers in school, no matter how their teachers might have answered that question.

"How does data drive your instruction?"

When I answered honestly at this second interview, that it does NOT drive my instruction, and that what does drive my instruction is wanting the joy and humanity of the arts for all my students, there was silence for a couple of beats; the music supervisor finally said, "Interesting...." and made some notes on her clipboard. It was not brought up again, nor do I think it ever will be, except possibly to be used against me. LOL (The interviewers also clearly did not think much about my views on school discipline, either; the looks of bewilderment that I wouldn't apply a punishment across the board to all offenders amuse me to this day.)

"How does data drive your instruction?"

How does data drive instruction at your children's schools? It's a good question to ask of your school's leaders.......

Update: After a Tweet about not being a data-driven teacher, I got a phone call from HR, prompted by the then-Superintendent who'd read the Tweet, reprimanding me for my stance. I hand-delivered my resignation 2 days later to HR, and was summarily Twitter-blocked by the ex-Super.

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Please keep it clean. Differences of opinion aren't a problem for me. Rudeness is. Thankyouverymuch. :-)