Collect and Defend
My first big teaching contract after having graduated university had me working in a middle school just outside my hometown.
I got a call from the school’s principal about two days before the contract start date asking me if I was interested. A 100% physical education contract is not something you say no to when you’re fresh out of your PETE (Physical Education Teacher Education) university program. I said yes and went to visit the school the following day.
When I got to the school, I met with a few other teachers and had a meeting with one of the two VPs I would be working for (one was responsible for grades 7-8, the other was responsible for grade 9). It turns out that I was going to be responsible for the education of 345 students and that I had to submit grades for the upcoming report card… which meant I had to grade 345 students within three weeks.
Here in Quebec, we have three competencies towards which we evaluate our students:
- Performs movement skills in a variety of physical activity settings.
- Interacts with others in a variety of physical activity settings.
- Adopts a healthy, active lifestyle.
Back then, we had to submit one grade for each competency for each report card. That meant that I would have to submit 1035 grades (for students who I hadn’t even met yet) within three weeks.
I asked my VP if it would be ok if I only focused on one competency (“Adopts a healthy, active lifestyle”) for the upcoming report card, since I was new and the teacher I was replacing could not be contacted. You can imagine how happy I was when he agreed.
So, with three weeks to go and 345 grades to produce, I got to work.
I decided to do a fitness unit through which the students would have to a) analyze their own fitness levels, b) determine areas of their own fitness that they wanted to improve, c) set a fitness goal using the S.M.A.R.T. principle, and d) create an action plan to achieve their goal.
Since I was only going to get to see each of my seven classes four times within those three weeks, I decided that everything had to be done on paper so that I could keep track of my students work/learning.
In total, the students had to fill out three different worksheets over the course of four classes. Each night, I would evaluate their sheets and leave a bunch of feedback to help these new students of mine learn as fast as possible. Grading 1035 worksheets definitively kept me busy: I would get in to work at 7am and leave at 7pm each day throughout those three weeks.
When the day came to enter the grades, I was truly proud of my work and my students’ learning throughout what felt like a 100m dash of a unit. I entered all 345 grades into my board’s online system (along with two teacher comments per student) and got all of this done just in time for the grade deadline.
As I typed in my final grade and comments, I leaned back in my chair, smiled, and then put those last worksheets into the filer in my office at the school.
Curious as to who would be visiting me in the PE department on a PD day, I opened the door to find the other VP I worked for (not the one I had met with) looking pretty angry.
“Joey, you only entered one grade for your students!”
I explained to her that I had an agreement with the other VP and that, since I had only been at the school for three weeks, it wasn’t realistic for me to try and grade all three competencies within that timeframe.
She told me she wasn’t aware of my agreement but that it was ok for this time. She then left and I closed the door and sat back down at my desk.
I opened the door to find my VP standing there again, this time looking a little more annoyed.
“You graded competency three?”, she asked.
“Yes”, I replied.
“Adopts a healthy active lifestyle?”
She then walked into my office, pulled up a chair, sat down, crossed her arms and asked:
“So how the hell did you do that?”
People laugh at me when they see me walking around my gym during class, taking pictures of my students, recording answers to discussion questions, and having them draw/explain movements on my iPad.
People also laugh when they see how intense I am about my assessment and how I tie all of my teaching back to my provincial curriculum.
The thing is, if I hadn’t spent the time grading those 1035 student documents, if I hadn’t collected all that evidence of my students’ learning, if I hadn’t taken what was a very difficult task very seriously… I would have been in a lot of shit that day.
But I did do all those things. I was able to defend each and every grade I entered into the system that morning and I never had a VP question my work again.
We need to take assessment seriously. It’s not only so that we can provide the most accurate grade possible for each of our students (which is obviously very important), but it’s also so that we can defend the work we do as teaching professionals.
Collect and defend, my friends.
Collect and defend.