Goodbye edTPA, Hello Better Relationships

Like many faculty and staff who work with teacher candidates in New York State, I was glad to see the edTPA discontinued. (Glad = whoop of delight, shout of “YES!” and fist in the air.)

I didn’t have a problem with the task it presented: teachers should be able to plan and assess their lessons, and they should be able to provide valid reasons for why they do what they do in the classroom. Fair enough. What I, and many others, had a problem with was the timing.

The student teaching experience is a time when newbies have a chance to put into practice all they’ve been learning – a time for synthesis of knowledge and skills. Given that, a task that asks students to carefully document and provide rationales for what they are doing in the classroom might seem a good match for the situation. But when the edTPA is embedded in student teaching, it robs time from one of its most important benefits: the chance to build relationships over time with classroom teachers and with students. How does it do that? Simply put, the edTPA is an outsized assessment tool that shifts the teacher candidates’ attention from classroom dynamics to words on the page.

Hey, I’m a writer: I value writing and long for “words on the page” to be more valued by students. But at that point in the candidates’ entry into the profession, I don’t value it over time to reflect, time to relax, time to enter a classroom and interact as one human with another.

Let’s keep in mind that when a teacher walks into the classroom as one human being, that interaction with “another” might be a full day with thirty five-year-olds, or a day of having over 100 teenagers cycle through the classroom. Students in NYS take part in significant time in the classroom during their practicum experiences, but it is student teaching that immerses them in the life of a classroom teacher. It is daunting, humbling, and exhilarating all at once. It is, if all goes well, a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and students can best learn from it by musing, staring out the window, and talking over their observations and ideas with their university and classroom mentors.

In ordinary, pre-COVID times, relationships in the classroom were vital to the success of the grand educational mission of the classroom. The edTPA, as a misfit in the student teaching experience, was a hindrance to that mission. These days, the isolation we’ve experienced has left all the stakeholders in schooling – the students, their parents, guardians, teachers, professors, and community –  stressed and trying to build back. Subtracting the edTPA from student teaching adds vital time for the reflection and thoughtful conversations that can help us nurture not only professional knowledge, but the compassion and empathy we all need to navigate these extraordinary times.

Published by Eudora Watson

I am a writer, poet, teacher who loves the natural world and photographing insects. You can see some of my photos of insects on bugguide,net and my writing on my blog. I'd rather laugh than not, and rather dance than almost anything else.

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