When ED comes to town, teachers wrangle time from exhausting schedules and open their doors to policy types, for the opportunity to influence educational reform. This was the idea behind “Education Drives America”, to empower educators to leverage their expertise in the field in ways that are not typically available to them.
As a TAF for ED, I was privileged to be one of those who walked through their doors, listened to their success as well as concern, and left awed by their generous spirit, professionalism and pursuit of excellence. No matter their title, nor responsibility, the number one thing on their mind is teacher evaluations.
No surprise there.
From California, to Utah, from Kansas to Missouri (my stops on the bus tour) teachers want to know how anyone could fairly and accurately assess what they do when it is so complex. Fair question.
In California at the NASA Ames Research Center, a handful of mighty educators passionately emphasized that at the heart of STEM education, must be the integration of content with real-time, authentic, embedded inquiry that stems from partnerships with businesses or organizations. They are viably concerned that a teacher’s ability to develop critical thinking skills in students in this arena cannot and will not be measured nor valued by current evaluations systems.
Other teachers in California expressed it this way, “Teaching is so complex that anyone outside of education cannot grasp the depth and breadth of the ever-changing knowledge, skills and understanding required to effectively meet the needs of students.” You get the sense that these teachers desire to integrate technology within their content, even though they’ve experienced no training on new equipment.
To get it done, they will rely on each other and the literacies of their students. This adaptability and willingness to place themselves outside of their comfort zone are admirable teacheresque qualities. But can these qualities be effectively captured in an evaluation?
California is not the only place where teacher angst over evaluations is high. In Kansas and Missouri, groups of teachers expressed a concern that makes the system seem counterintuitive. One elementary school teacher said that because teachers know nothing about the new evaluation, fear has crept in so that professional learning and collaborating is now stifled by “competition and a resistance to share” successes for fear that someone else may be promoted based on your ideas.
Concerns about teacher evaluation hits home as well, in Arizona. We know that the observers, our administrators, know little about what to look for. Many have been out of the classroom and not engaged in learning communities so how will they be able to contextualize what they see (or don’t see) in the classroom? Principals need support and training too, on how to observe, how often to observe, and what to look for.
Another concern is equity. Is it fair to use the same measure for SPED teachers as for those who teach AP? And shouldn’t a music or digital arts teacher be evaluated solely on their individual practice and not the performance of the whole school? If you want the expert’s support and not their nodding compliance, these are questions that need to be addressed, and soon.
It comes as no surprise that most teachers agree that evaluations should be multi-layered and accompanied by reflective conversation with an administrator
The fact that good educators make the complex process of teaching look easy, quite frankly, complicates the matter. Contrary to public opinion, good teaching is hard work. Yet, there are those who believe that by nature of the fact they’ve spent at least a dozen plus years in a classroom they are experts at what teachers do. Well that doesn’t make them an expert any more than my many doctor visits makes me a physician.
Good teachers make the cognitively challenging, emotionally exhausting, physically exhilarating, and socially dynamic work look effortless! And I guess it’s a testament to their efficacy that former students now feel they know what it takes, without ever stepping into their teacher’s shoes.
Maybe therein lies the key to an effective evaluation system. Be a teacher. Walk in teachers shoes for a week or two. Then, together maybe we can create an evaluation tool worthy of their work.