“Data-driving Away Teachers” by Ikechukwu Onyema


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“Data-driving Away Teachers” by Ikechukwu Onyema

When I embarked on my journey as an educator, I imagined that my prime responsibility would be to create engaging lessons where my students lost themselves in the wonder of their curiosity.

It can take hours to scour the internet for a diverse array of photos, laminate them onto poster paper, and mount them around the classroom for a gallery walk as my students navigate and jot down the first thoughts that occur to them. This was an activity my co-teacher and I prepared as a preamble for a discussion about stereotypes.

How about compiling a set of pro/con articles for several different persuasive essay topics and uploading them onto our classroom social networking website to facilitate iPad research during our argumentative writing unit? More hours.

Then consider the time and care needed to grade each of these 90 assignments and return them back to the students with feedback in a timely manner so they can edit and resubmit them for a better grade. Even more hours.

Part of submitting oneself to the rigorous profession of teaching requires the creativity to come up with novel ideas and the time to carry them out. All teachers know this.  Administrators with even a shaky working memory should be aware of this.  But policy makers have absolutely no regard for this fact.

That is why they shout their favorite buzzword from on top of their self-righteous mountain of education reform, “DATA—DRIVEN—INTRUCTION.” Can you hear the echo? … Me neither. I’m busy teaching

What does this sanctified term actually mean?

Drill your students with meaningless multiple-choice tests everyday at the start and end of class. Grade them all. Compile the numbers on a spreadsheet. Sort the students into categories of proficient and basic—smart and dumb.  Perform this monotonous exercise for every assessment you give.  And—while the merciless hour hand of the clock grinds away–lets schedule meetings during the school day and afterschool to pour over it.

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By now I’m sure, you can detect that I am philosophically at variance with this requirement thrust upon teachers who already have enough on our plates. Is this whole process completely worthless? Not necessarily.  It can provide some helpful info to a teacher as we reflect on what material may need to be retaught, and perhaps taught in a completely different way—especially in the event of a significant fail rate on a particular assessment.

But herein lies my beef with this fad. Time!–it’s already a scarce resource.  What’s the best way to spend it?  Preparing comprehensive data reports or creating riveting lessons?

I vividly recall spending an entire Saturday simply compiling data sheets to submit to my administration. I didn’t finish.  My Sunday was spent grading and finishing up the data reports.  It wasn’t until the wee hours of Monday morning that I had a chance to prepare my materials for the lesson of the day (PowerPoint slides, worksheets, website updates). I need not mention the other items on my to-do list like bulletin board updates and photocopies.

The sad and unacknowledged reality is that data driven instruction comes at the expense of creating dynamic lesson plans because it takes up too much time.

We need to change course. Our dignified teachers who refuse this incursion into their professional and creative prerogatives are leaving.  Our curriculum is gradually being compressed into a multiple choice bubble wrap package of nonsense.  And the ultimate hope of improving education is being dashed.

Ike Onyema is entering his fourth year as an educator in the Essex county area of Northern New Jersey.  He graduated from Rutgers-Newark in 2008.  He is currently a Chemistry teacher.  He celebrates his Nigerian heritage and loves Africa wherever he finds her.  During his leisure, he enjoys pondering the tranquility of the beach while taking long walks down rugged streets.

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