Hasan: Don’t need kids to worry about TAP
Vail CO, Colorado
I am happy to report that my commentary from a few weeks ago has stirred a dialogue over the usefulness of the Teacher Advancement Program (TAP). I received many e-mails from concerned teachers and parents alike, all expressing positive concern, while not a single e-mail was received in support of TAP. As someone who is not a teacher within our school district, nor a parent of a child, it was befuddling to some that I would be so passionately against TAP.
Yes, I sympathize with the needs of our hard-working teachers.
However, as someone with a learning disability, I also sympathize with children who have learning disabilities.
I don’t mean to victimize myself, but grade school was not a time of pleasure for me; I was mal-taught. I recall one day in first grade when our teacher put down a set of math tables. Breezing through the paper, I stumbled upon one table that deeply confused me: zero plus zero. The table didn’t make sense to this little 7-year-old. How could nothing be added to nothing? Technically, the answer should be zero, but how could you add something to another number and not receive a greater figure?
I took my sheet to our teacher and explained my confusion. My teacher looked up at our entire class and announced, “Class, Ali doesn’t know what zero plus zero is!” At that point, the majority of my classmates pointed at me, laughed, and yelled “Zero!” I never asked that teacher for help ever again.
And it was in the same first-grade class that I served as a “pull-out” kid. Because my reading and writing skills were deficient in comparison to everyone else’s, a teacher’s aide visited our classroom everyday. Upon her visit, she would call the names of three children (one of those being myself) and would escort the three of us outside into the hallway where we would read books of lower levels. I didn’t mind being demoted to a lower reading level; it just didn’t feel good to be pulled out in front of everyone else.
Fortunately, I gained more loving teachers as I passed through middle school and high school, but I was always behind.
Reading never came easy to me, nor did standardized tests. I recall the disastrous results of my first PSAT in 10th grade. Instead of sharing my poor results with me, I was referred to a school psychologist, who was somehow going to teach me how to read and take tests. There was nothing more frustrating than going to class and being lectured on my inability to read well, and then required to go see a psychologist who would basically repeat every negative thing my teachers told me.
So I wasn’t good at reading, writing, or test taking.
But I was good at making people laugh; I was also good at getting under the skin of my teachers. In being known as the kid who couldn’t read and couldn’t test well, the only niche I could claim was that of being bad, where my rebellious nature could win approvals of my classmates, while still giving me a good excuse for my poor results.
After all, I’d much rather be a slacker who doesn’t care than a stupid kid.
When I was hired as a tyro-teacher in Los Angeles public schools, I was chided by some of my college classmates. After all, I was born into wealth in the Rocky Mountains, a far cry from the background that many of my children faced raised in the barrios of Los Angeles. It was no surprise to me, though, that I was extremely successful as a teacher upon entering the classroom.
In entering the classroom, I saw in my children what I saw in myself. Too scared of being called “stupid” or “dumb,” many would hide their insecurities inside a veil of rebellion. However, their approach to rebellion would have terrible consequences. Such actions caused my children to join gangs or engage in activities that would end with trips to either a jail or the cemetery.
The majority of the teachers I worked with in Los Angeles did a tremendous job, but there was little training given in understanding the psychology of our children.
My point in bringing up such personal information is to explain my hunger for a school system where children with learning disabilities can receive proper support and love. Environments where children are coaxed to cover up their problems with acts of rebellion and defiance can be quashed when those environments become ones where children can openly confide in others about their predicaments and develop strategies to encourage better learning.
In evaluating our TAP system, I noticed that around 40 percent of teacher payment is based upon how well a teacher’s students perform on standardized tests. A minor portion, I believe around 12 percent, is based on how much growth a teacher’s students have exhibited; in other words, how much better a student has gotten over the year, rather than just evaluating a raw test score.
Thus, my great fear of TAP is the environment it creates for our children. It benefits a teacher to teach children who will do well on the standardized tests, particularly those students who do not claim learning disabilities or behavior problems. I worry that children with learning disabilities are being left behind, because volunteering to teach such children will only increase the likelihood of low test scores, translating into a lower bonus.
In effect, our system is penalizing teachers who throw their love and support to students of extra needs. We need a system that rewards our compassionate teachers, without stacking the deck against our most needy children.
Our system must be changed; please continue e-mailing me if you, as well, feel this change is needed.
Muhammad Ali Hasan of Beaver Creek writes a biweekly column for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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