Ken Bernstein, better known to some as TeacherKen, has posted a fabulous piece at Huffington Post on teacher evaluation that echoes my own feelings on the subject.
Fair evaluation would include observations by administrators and peers, with feedback that can help me improve as a teacher. It would also include input from parents as they watch their children develop during their time with me. Ideally, it would include having students build and maintain a portfolio of work over the entire year, with periodic reflection on what they are learning, and what it means to them.
What really stops weak teachers from getting either the help they need or getting removed is not tenure or teacher union contracts (we have neither here where I work). It’s sloppy or abused evaluations. I have taught under four different principals. One of them has never actually seen me teach. One saw a grand total of 30 minutes over a two year period. One never looked at any lesson plan I wrote, or ever had a real discussion with me about what I was doing in the classroom. They had excuses—overworked, too much paperwork, too many different responsibilities. “Well, your students are doing okay, so you must be doing something right.”
The lack of real feedback on the quality of my work was my primary motivation for pursuing National Board Certification. My students had “good” test scores, but I could have been a lousy teacher, even treating them inhumanely. As a parent, when my own children, including two with special needs, went through public school, I rarely—if ever—was concerned with the test scores their teachers posted the year or years before. I had more significant concerns: Do you care about my child? Will you take the time to get to know him/her? Will you treat my child as if she were your child? Are you patient? Are you fair? Do you know your subject area well enough and are you secure enough to provide classroom experiences that challenge him to reach his full potential? Can you start with her where she is and help her move forward at a pace that is not too frustrating?
Similarly, an very competent, caring teacher can have weak numbers due to factors beyond his/her control. A truly effective evaluation system would also identify those teachers, and possibly help us as a society do more to support them and their students. Real evaluation takes time, effort, and mutual respect.
The evaluation system Ken outlines in his post allows teachers to get valuable feedback from all the key stakeholders on the various aspects of our professional practice. How would you feel if this were the standard approach to evaluating public school teachers in the U.S.? What would it take to get there from where teacher evaluation is now in most places?