Let me see if I can offer some assistance and clarity in the teacher evaluation conversation. Before I make my argument, however, I need to bring some facts to the front of the discussion. One thing to bring to the discussion is the fact that there have always been teacher evaluations.
They were there when I attended school fifty years ago, they were there before I got to school, and they were there throughout the forty years of my teaching career. I was evaluated all forty years I taught, but the one major difference between my first thirty-five years and the last five was that during the first thirty-five years I was evaluated by people with expertise in my subject area and/or experience in teaching that often exceeded fifteen years.
Another thing to bring to the front of the discussion is the fact that during the thirty-five years the people doing the evaluating were educators-not politicians, or theorists, or businessmen who stood to profit from the production of these evaluations, or the “consultants” who would be sent out to participate in or actually conduct the evaluation.
Yet another point to make is the fact the evaluations weren’t “automatic”, they had to be earned and earned every time the teacher was observed,(as was the case with tenure which I know because I know what it took for me to get my tenure!).
If you were deficient/lacking in an area, the evaluation, usually assessed by a principal or assistant principal who had taught your subject or had at least had several years of teaching experience before becoming an administrator, spoke with you after the evaluation, explaining the problem and offering practical, pedagogically sound solutions/methods, as opposed to you being sent to professional developments or directed to view internet videos/ visit internet sites to resolve the problem.
Having said that, it is important to reiterate the point that there have always been evaluations. Every profession from baseball player, to astronaut, to engineer, to zoologist has an evaluation process, so it would be the height of stupidity and absurdity not to want evaluations. However, firemen don’t evaluate doctors, and police officers don’t evaluate the work of pilots, therefore it only makes sense that educators should evaluate educators.
What amazes me most is that this idea is a no-brainer in every area – except education! Policemen don’t run firehouses, doctors don’t draw up blueprints, soccer coaches don’t manage baseball teams-only in education do people who know little or nothing about education are the people who are out in charge of “fixing” the problem .
My problem with the evaluation process as it is currently espoused is that as it pertains to students and teaching is the idea that students must have “ownership” of the lesson in order for any lesson to have success. (Here, I have a slight disagreement with My buddy Bernie. Getting feedback from students is an important factor in understanding how well one teaches.)
Another point that needs to be made is that teachers themselves perform evaluations with regularity. As a teacher, I gave tests to assess my students’ understanding, and if they failed the tests, I, (like so many other teachers), looked to see why they failed by asking myself if had taught the materials clearly, provided enough opportunity for application, if the students poor attendance didn’t afford him/her the chance to acquire the information, or if he/she might have needed some sort of additional services. That evaluation didn’t occur a month later, or the following year-it happened immediately!
While the job of a teacher is to help students learn, no teacher can make a student learn, therefore to hold a teacher responsible for a student’s grade on a test is flawed in at least two ways:
- If teachers are responsible for students’ failing grades, logic would demand they be held responsible for those students’ 90’s and 95’s as well. The problem here is that teachers receive no credit at all for the grades of successful students – in fact they are usually told that the good grades can be solely attributed to the students’ efforts and diligence.
- There are things over which teachers have control. After all, what happens if a student is frequently absent? It’s safe to assume that student would most like fail the test. The question is would that failure be the fault of the teacher? How about if the teacher’s students were well below grade level as compared to teachers, classes or school districts in which students were on or above grade level?
For me, good teaching, teaching that engenders and facilitates learning, is composed of three elements:
- Practicality of method or procedure, (meaning the method can be repeated and duplicated by others)
- Application of method/procedure, (meaning the method can be applied or used)
- The ability of the student(s) to perform the tasks in the method.
If you follow sports you know that the most successful players are the players who can repeat or duplicate what they do whether it’s an inside out swing, or making a certain pitch, or shooting a basketball, or hitting a ball in golf or tennis. As a coach in sports, the most successful coaches are those coaches who have the ability to teach methods that can be repeated. The problem is that the coaches can only control the practicality and the applicability of the method- they have no control over the ability of the athlete to perform the method. Bob Kersee could provide a practical, applicable method to help someone to become a world class athlete, but without the talent of Jackie Joyner Kersee he would not have enjoyed the success he had with her.
A teacher of calculus might very well have a practical and applicable method to teach calculus, but it is likely that teacher would not be successful if he/she were teaching calculus to students who have not successfully learned the prerequisites for success in calculus. According to the Cuomo evaluation system, that would make that teacher incompetent and ineffective. Would that be a responsible, reasonable, accurate evaluation? Would that evaluation genuinely and honestly assess that teacher’s ability? Not from where I’m standing.
Teachers understand the importance of education and take their role in education seriously. I, and I daresay the people I am proud to call my colleagues, know. Speaking for myself and them, I can say we don’t want ineffective, incompetent people in our profession to detract from our efforts and hard work. We don’t mind being evaluated. All we are asking is that the evaluation be honest, genuine, accurate, fair and able to be used by the people being evaluated to make them more successful teachers.
It seems to me that in the end, the most important goal is to ensure education takes place and to do everything humanly possible to empower and assist teachers to become the best teachers they can be to help that education happen.