Rules of the Game


Do you ever wish that teaching came with a rulebook that you could apply from moment to moment and year to year? Now I’m one who relishes in new challenges, and I often jump in the deep end and try new things. Lately, though, I feel like the playing field is changing drastically, and I feel like I’m trying to master new rules and new skills. I’ve always known I have areas for growth, but usually I feel like I’m a pretty good player in this game and that I’m on the first string.  Lately, though, I feel like my stats put me on the bench, and I’m trying to master a lot of new rules.

Today I thought of this comparison of the rules of the game to teaching as I played four-square with my children. The rules of that game seem to have changed a lot in the past 34 years, at least according to my children. I felt like the game had been altered, and no longer was I feeling like the “king” of the squares; perhaps I was a mere peasant. I had to ask for clarification of the rules, both children had different interpretations of the rules, and I wasn’t sure exactly how to play the game. Sound familiar?

Yes, that’s the way I feel as I try to forge forward on this ever changing playing field of education. Rule after rule is hurled at me, and I’m trying to hold my own and play at a proficient level, but I can’t master all the rules and skills at once.  At times, I feel more like an ill-prepared rookie trying to master this new level of play than like a seasoned veteran who knows what to expect and can roll with the punches.

This is a year with lots of new challenges. Never in my life have I seen teachers working so hard trying to master this new game and so unsure of how to apply the  new rules that accompany TKES (Teacher Keys Effectiveness System), a new system of evaluation with 10 performance standards and a bar that seems to get higher and higher, one that requires more documentation, organization, and planning than ever before.

While I’m not opposed to higher standards and new challenges, I am overwhelmed by so much at once, by these new levels of mastery,  the learning curve that goes with it, and the greater demands. I am working so hard and sleeping so little. This has been tough on me and my family, and I have a huge learning curve as I try to learn the new rules and document all that I do. I feel my growth this year more than any other, but I am sleep deprived because of it, and my life just isn’t balanced.

Last week, my words offered comfort to a great teacher who changed grade levels after several years in another, a teacher who felt like she wasn’t reaching that bar.  I told her she can’t expect to have differentiation and formative practice and all the other components of her evaluation where she wants it with it being her first year in that grade level. Going from being measured as either “Satisfactory” or “Needs Improvement” to these new levels of performance  (4-3-2-1) is humbling and even deflating for so many teachers I know.

Never have I seen people working so hard to teach, differentiate, and document.  I see some good things coming out of the teaching practices that accompany this new evaluative system, but the learning curve is a struggle for so many, and streamlining the process is not easy.  More than ever I think teachers are having to develop a growth mindset and get gritty (as they say). Perhaps I need the words of Angela Duckworth and Carol Dweck to put me to sleep at night.

Along with this, we have a new assessment measure in GA that is being developed for this spring, a measure that is Common Core based, but neither PARCC nor Smarter Balanced; thus, I am unsure of what this means for our assessment. 47% language/writing and 53% reading/vocabulary–selected response, constructed response, extended response (one narrative, one informational or argument). Great, but what does that mean? Will this assessment mirror PARCC and Smarter Balanced or will it be its own beast? Will the language/grammar questions be in-context or out of context? With no sample assessment and most resources still in development, I feel ill-prepared to prepare kids and to help them grow. Begin with the end in mind, but what is the end? What are the rules? Make sure your students grow, but what is growth on this new measure that will be one measure instead of two for language arts? How will growth be measured from last year’s test to this year’s test? And how do I do everything to ensure student success given one 60 minute period?

Sometimes I say, “Bring it on.”  Other times I feel like I just want someone to give me a clearcut rulebook that tells me that if I do x, y, and z., then my students will experience success. Then, I get the rulebook with the last 30 pages missing, and I find myself at this pedagogical crossroad where I have to let go of some things in order to play on the first string, and so I lose a little part of me as my identity shifts and as I adapt to survive and thrive and be a player in this game.

Of course, I’m still trying to learn the rules of the game, so I can play at my best.


I don’t need to play better than anyone else–I just need to play at my best for the sake of preparing my students to be successful, but wait, I still want to hang on the my pedagogy and make readers and writers out of my students. I still want to foster a love of reading and help students find their voices as writers.

I like the explanation for the above quote at  The author writes, “To become an expert at something, learn all you can about that subject, study other’s successes and then aim to do it better than them.  The stronger your commitment and passion is to your endeavor, the greater your resolve will be to succeed.”

While I’m confident that I know my subject and my pedagogy, I struggle with finding myself in new evaluative measures and new assessments. Some of the changes I embrace, yet others are a struggle.  Who am I? Who am I becoming? Who do my students need for me to become? Who do the assessments need me to become? Can I keep my pedagogy while shifting my practice a bit? Do I need to let go of parts of my pedagogy?

Is the midlife crisis of teaching? I still love teaching, and I will find myself in this. Perhaps I need to keep looking for the successes of others in this new game. I may not have the rulebook memorized, and I may not know all the rules. Still, though, I will keep seeking, growing, and adapting as I try to find how to keep what I know to be sacred while I navigate this new playing field.

What I have can’t be taught: commitment, passion, grit. I aim to do more than survive. I aim to thrive, and I will. Game on. Now somebody send me the last 30 pages of the rulebook–please!


One thought on “Rules of the Game

  1. I feel for your rising sense of overwhelm. The real rule of thumb, however, I think, is today– what are my students ready to learn and how can I best teach them?
    This is your agency and great privilege as s teacher. It is inner directed work.
    The courage to nod to the outer forms of evaluation and pursue what you know is best for your students will help free you from some of that angst.
    Nobody really knows what all the rules are– they’re being hatched like pet theories faster than they can be assimilated.
    BTW, I love four square. You’re the server. Let’s rally.


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