In my last post, I wrote about good reasons for teachers to document their students’ work. However, there’s another side of this. Many of my teacher friends in the USA complain about the level of documentation they are forced to do for the sake of “accountability.” On its face, it seems great. People should be accountable for their actions, and that includes teachers. I’ve certainly met a few teachers who really, really shouldn’t have been teaching. The only reason they kept their jobs seemed to be because they were never held accountable for their failures in teaching or the terrible things they did.
Accountability is important, and I don’t want that to get lost in what I’m going to say next. An obsession with accountability can have terrible consequences for teaching. I have seen schools with so much of an emphasis on accountability that teachers don’t have time to prepare for classes because they are so busy having to document everything they do. I was in one school where teachers had to write up every accommodation they made on every assignment for every student with an IEP (Individualized Education Program—this is a lengthly document for students with any learning difficulties to have teachers modify their lessons to accommodate the students’ needs) which at this school, was 1/3 of my students. I was not a special education teacher.
I get it. Parents want to make sure I’m doing what I am supposed to to help their children, as they should. The whole hierarchy of bureaucracy enforces this, and so detailed documentation of everything is demanded. The problem is that this level of documentation is really, really time consuming. When it is prioritized, as it often is, it eats away a teacher’s time to plan and prepare for their classes. I can’t develop my lesson or reflect on my teaching if I have to write pages of documentation right now. There aren’t enough hours in the day to plan, teach, and document every single thing.
Despite being very pro-accountability, I find myself of the opinion that teachers really don’t need another extraneous thing to do. This heavy focus on documenting everything, while it sounds great on paper, turns out to be a detriment to the actual teaching. This however, is at odds with my skeptical mindset, which says that more evidence is better.
So, I will posit a question (that I suspect will go unanswered, seeing how few people read, much less comment, on my posts here): What should take precedence? Accountability with (probably) lower lesson quality, or more difficulty in determining whether teachers are actually doing what they are supposed to?