Last Summer, when the teacher union mentioned to its members that there was an SEL survey on the way, I thought "great. It's about the DOE cares about kids"
My school used to administer an SEL survey to every single student. It took students twenty-five minutes on a laptop to complete. We received all sorts of useful data because of it. This included bits of data about how they felt during a typical day, what their confidence level was and whether or not they may have been suffering from extra stress at home. The answers were sent to an Excel file and used by people throughout the building (I built several programs around the data that grew from it). It was cool. It was très cool. It was simple, quick and it helped school officials help children. I loved it.
I don't use that word -survey- lightly, by the way. In fact, I use it in as accurate a manner as I possibly can. Color me silly but, when most of your readers are experienced school teachers, the use of good grammar and accurate wording are particularly important. Google defines the word survey this way
"...investigate the opinions or experience of (a group of people) by asking them questions".
The process seems to be simple. You ask some questions. You record their answers. Later on, you look at those answers and do some cool stuff with it. Here is how the accurate definition of the word "survey" looks when you gaze upon it on the dictionary.
Survey - investigate the opinions or experience of (a group of people) by asking them questions.
Looks nice, doesn't it?
This is why I was surprised to learn this past week that the UFT president told members that he was complaining about the SEL survey. "Why", I thought "would anyone want to complain about a survey process that could help kids?". I was disappointed. (In fact, I was très disappointed).
Yesterday, my chapter leader let the members know that Monday will be the SEL survey day. On this day, teachers (not students) will be answering questions (forty-three of them, in fact) related to the emotional well being of each identified student they teach.
Apparently, the DOE and the UFT (with whom the DOE closely works in daily partnership) does not believe that students can take their own SEL survey or answer their own SEL questions. Their teachers must answer them instead.
And they are calling this process a "survey".
This is untrue, of course. This is not a survey at all. The DOE and UFT are, apparently, not big dictionary fans. Both sides should know full well that what they are planning to implement is not a survey. Yet neither side really does. The fake competence from the DOE planners and the fake anger from the UFT union officials obfuscate a sheer linguistic reality -that they were never planning to survey students at all. They have no intention of hearing from the children they serve. They just want to be able to say to the public "we have heard from the children we serve".
And the public is damn well misinformed enough to believe them.
But this isn't a new tool, either. A different profession -the Mental Health profession- uses a similar tool for every new patient they meet. The tool is called a psychosocial assessment. It is an important part of the intake process for every patient who first enters treatment of any kind or sort. Psychosocial assessments, (or 'psychosocials', as they are called by people in the profession) utilize the professionals' expertise and addresses several detailed areas of the patient's life in order to gain a full picture of that person's needs. And, while they do help paint a clear mental health picture for the professionals who serve the new patient, these assessments are performed only by a trained, licensed professional (you know, people who know what they are doing). They require oodles of time to complete and specific training is needed to ensure that they are performed in the right manner. Almost every mid-sized to large clinical environment has at least one or two professionals whose sole job is to perform these psychosocials every single day. And those professionals are heavily surprised as they perform their task.
What we are being asked to perform is closer to a psychosocial assessment (a tool used by trained licensed mental health professionals) than it is a survey. Our supervisors' supervisors have been, for one reason or another, a bit less than honest with the public in identifying this as an "SEL survey". The teacher union is pretending to be upset because we (who are licensed only to be school teachers) are being asked to answer more questions than they would like us to answer (43 questions for each student instead of just 5).
(The latter group may have a point. I teach high school. For me, there are 34 identified students. I will have to answer 43 questions for each of them. That means I'll be answering 1,462 questions (all related to a job that I have not been hired to do, am not trained for, possess no expertise for and am not licensed to do). I think the union is angry only that this number isn't 170. Other than that, they couldn't care much less. (So, no. The latter group doesn't really have a point at all.)
But that reality ignores the very important point that together, the DOE and the UFT do not believe that students can take their own SEL survey or answer their own SEL questions, and they do not believe that the thousands of actual mental health professionals who are employed by this city can perform their professional duties themselves (my own school's social worker may well be on dismissal duties while we are answering these questions. My school psychologist might be working on special education matters).
In my school, teachers will be receiving no meaningful training for this. Our counselors are receiving training and will, no doubt, turnkey it (in what we hope will be a very nice email with a link (maybe a cool video) because we are too busy trying to keep up with our own duties (many of which the folks downtown thrust/allowed to be thrust upon us in the past) as we try to have an hour or so with our own families before bed. The teachers, then, will be answering these questions.
And they are calling it an SEL survey.
Now the DOE could have issued an actual SEL survey to students. The UFT could have ensured that this was done in a meaningful and professional manner. But both of these organizations are on the wane and are presently in an inchoate state of rapid decline.So none of those failsafes (professionalism or fidelity toward the mission of the organization) seemed, in this particular case, to have worked. As a consequence, the teachers, you see, will be answering these mental health questions about the social-emotional needs of our students. We won't know what the hell we'll be doing, mind you. But I assure you here and now, we'll be doing it.
Dear parents, please hear my prediction: Come SEL survey day at your child's school, teachers there, and all across this great big city of ours, will be staring at a clock during their "PD time" (after a long hard day of work) and will fill out whichever answers to whatever bologna questions are being asked of them that can get them in their cars and home to their families as fast as they possibly can.
Many will be doing this 1,462 times.
Please do not think we don't care. We very much do. That's why we signed on to help your child learn how to read and how to write and how to love learning. That is our end of the bargain and we don't know jack about this other stuff here. We'll do out best, but we'll also be quick about it.
And, yes, the resulting data will be unreliable and unusable in any meaningful way. But, I'll always be honest with you in this space; I think I could get that crap done in 16 1/2 minutes if I wanted. And I never would. But, know, that every other teacher will think much the same thing.
And this is because you simply cannot depend upon the fidelity of teachers after giving them a nonsensical and unrealistic task to perform. We are as honest as the day is long and we are as faithful to your children as an old lady in church on a Sunday. But it is an educational law of physics that, when only garbage goes into a teacher's box, it is only garbage that can come out. Because of this, we will answer ... as best as we can. We think we can be done before the school day ends.
And please know that, if the DOE (who is supposed to work with teachers every day) and the UFT (who is literally made up of former teachers) could not have figured this out as they planned and communicated with you, then I don't feel you should blame a teacher. If you worked for and around these people, you'd act just like us too.