But what if I actually suck?
I'm undergoing an ongoing attempt to understand my aversion to data and, by doing so openly and honestly, improve my use of it to better teach my kids. A few months ago I set the table, explaining the basics of how I feel and the goals I'm setting for myself. Not long ago I was on the Chasing Squirrels podcast with Chris Cluff, and the subject came up again. In talking to Chris about it I voiced another aspect of my aversion to data which I hadn't covered the first time.
What if one of the reasons I avoid taking a good hard look at data is because it'll reveal that I'm not actually that good of a teacher? What if that Imposter Syndrome that sits so high on the list of Teacher Fears all of us had is actually justified and the numbers prove it?
It's so easy to say, "Numbers do not define my students. They are more than their scores." That's all true. Teaching cannot be quantified with standardized tests. Not completely. But, I mean, those numbers must mean something, right? They aren't random. The tests, while not ideal, are also not the garbage fire we make them out to be. They do take up too much time, they don't fully assess a child's learning or knowledge, they are often a blunt tool being made to do surgical work, but they do turn up results that aren't total bull.
Part of my argument, and the general argument, for making in class and more open student choice is the learning is still happening, and it will be reflected in assessments. I don't stress myself or my students about The Big Test At The End or the DIBELS tests or any of the other hoops we jump through any further than telling them, "I expect you to do your best on everything that happens in this class. That's the baseline. So you'll do your best on this Big Test just like you'll do your best when we build trebuchets." And I expect the learning and perseverance and problem solving to transfer, with a good helping of explicit instruction on my part. And my principal, may Admina the Goddess of Principals bless her, trusts me when I tell her it works.
So what happens when we sit down to look at data and instead of letting it roll off my back because I'm affecting disinterest because hey man I didn't want to be invited to your club anyway I take it more seriously and it shows that my way doesn't work? And I've built this whole classroom and philosophy on sand? What if it really shows that I'm not good at this?
I think this plays a bigger part in my fear of data than I let on. Now, my data has never been as bright and shiny as some other teachers to being with, but it's easy to shake that off when the default position is "Your data doesn't matter, maaaaaaan. My kids aren't numbers, maaaaaaan. You can't just assess us with your toy." Now that I'm making an effort to understand it and use it, now that I'm honestly and openly trying to put stock in it and see it as a useful tool...what now? I have to face up to problems in my instruction. Holes that the making and freedom don't effectively fill. Gaps I'm creating in my kids' learning.
It's good to see the gaps, it means I can fill them. But it's not all the fun to sit in a meeting (or alone in your classroom) and look at numbers that tell a story contrary to the one you thought you've been writing. What if the data shows I'm bad at this?
Then I see that, pout and stomp my feet, gnash my hair and pull my teeth, and find ways to get better. I remember that nothing is everything in education. I internalize that my class is doing things and learning things in ways they never would have if I didn't give them the chances to explore and build and fail safely how we do. I look for more effective ways to balance that with other methods of instruction that are less natural for me but better in the long run.
If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written three books about teaching- He’s the Weird Teacher, THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), and the just released A Classroom Of One. I’ve also written one novel- The Unforgiving Road. You should check them out, I’m even better in long form. I’m also on the tweets @TheWeirdTeacher.