Evaluating Teachers Part 3: Our Brother’s Keeper

In this third part of his series on Teacher Evaluation, Dave shares another story of a teacher struggling, and how that teacher’s PLC pulls together to help their team mate.

My team at Skyline High School had a problem.

One of our colleagues was struggling. We had organized ourselves to do two weeks of peer observations, spending an hour in each other’s classrooms.

My colleague’s room was a mess. Physically, the space was cluttered. Behaviorally, our students were appalling.

He and I shared kids. I taught them history and our career-specific elective. He taught English. I knew these kids. They were my kids. I was shocked at how different they acted in his room as opposed to mine. When one student whispered to me, “Mr. Orphal, it’s usually a lot worse than this, the kids are behaving better because you are here,” I was shocked.

My colleague’s lesson plan was also a mess. The topic for the day was parallel structure. After the hour, I wasn’t sure if my colleague understood parallel structure in writing, and I was sure that none of my kids did. I made a mental note to re-teach this in history class.

Two other teachers from our team also observed this same teacher’s class. After talking to each of them privately about our concerns for our colleague, the three of us met over lunch to talk about next steps.

We felt that our colleague needed more support than even the three of us combined could offer. We wanted him in the Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) program.  We agreed to meet with our colleague and have a heart-to-heart conversation with him.

The meeting was difficult. None of us are used to playing the role of our brother’s keeper.

Which brings me to the point of this blog post: teachers, especially through our professional associations, need to become our brothers’ and our sisters’ keepers.

In another post about teacher evaluation, I shared my friend’s story about being fired from her teaching job. The point of the first story was to debunk the myth that teachers are “impossible” to fire.

Later, I shared my own story about my worst year teaching. I wanted to show that every professional can have a bad day or even a bad year.

I’ll say it again: teachers need to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.

It’s one of the hallmarks of a true profession. The Bar Association is made up of lawyers. The AMA is made up of doctors. These professions monitor the performance their own members. Teachers can, too.

As a result of the difficult conversation with our colleague, he volunteered for the Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) program. He got a coach, and together we all worked to uplift his craft.

Is he a perfect teacher today? No. However, he is much improved. What’s even more important, he is on the road toward continual improvement.

My friend and CTQ Collaboratory colleague Renee Moore brought up a great point as she read a draft of this post.  “What happens to the kids during a teacher’s bad year or while a teacher struggles to improve?”

First off, I want to say this: there is no perfect solution. Any so-called education reformer who extolls a system by which every child will have nothing but excellent teachers every year of their educational career is trying to sell you a bottle of snake oil. So, let’s keep it real, please.

My students, during my worst year, didn’t get as good an education as my typical classes do. It’s as simple as that. And… there is no way anyone could have prevented that. If my administration fired me at the first hint of sub-par teaching, those same kids would have been subjected to a carousel of substitutes for the remainder of the year.

Now, that might have been better for them that sitting through my worst year teaching, but it certainly would not have been as good an experience as having a consistent teacher, even one who was merely average.

That said, there are ways we can mitigate the educational damage done. For my colleague whose story I share in this post, he had a team who shared his students. I, and the rest of his team, was able to observe his teaching and find ways to fill the gaps his students were suffering. Just as I advance the idea that we, as a community of professional educators, should have the courage to have honest conversations about our collective struggles, we should also have each other’s back, working together to make sure our students get the very best we can give.

Recapping my themes in this series, let me say this: America does not need to revoke due-process rights from teachers. In fact, I think we all need to take a step back from this aspect of the school reform debates and all take a deep breath.

Struggling teachers can improve when given help and support. The teacher whose name appears next to low test scores, might not be a “bad teacher” but rather a good teacher having a bad year. Finally, current due-process (tenure) systems work, if all sides choose to work the process.

Rather than imagining a post-tenure utopia, communities need to ask principals and district boards of education why they are not following the process currently in place to remove chronically underperforming teachers.  

  • DeidraGammill

    Bravo!

    Bravo to you and your colleagues. Holding each other accountable is tough; opportunities to visit other classrooms are rare or non-existant, and an open door through which to share our observations is tricky business. Even if someone says they WANT feedback, no one likes to hear that they’re doing a crappy job! Kudos to your team – you obviously handled the situation with grace and tact as evidenced by his willingness to get real help. 🙂