A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Saturday, December 12, 2009

What is the point of teacher evaluations?

As a crusty mmmmmph-year veteran of the classroom, I am always amused when it comes time to go through the whole teacher- evaluation sham each year.

Whazzat? Did I just pronounce this tedious process a sham? Why yes, I did.

Here's why: because the administrators have been trained like a set of circus seals tooting wee horns not to write anything actually specific on these forms. Our highest level of evaluation is entitled "meets expectations." Whoa. Glad to know that I am busting my hump and that that "meets expectations." I mean, I have a colleague who actually saved a kid's life by doing artificial resuscitation on the child after collapsing, and what did his evaluation say? "Meets expectations." And sure, I bet we all expect people to attempt to perform CPR on a child if called upon, but really? Couldn't there have been a tiny shout-out in the yearly form for acknowledging that most teachers (thankfully) are NOT called upon to actually breathe life back into a student's body, and so really, she had EXCEEDED expectations at least in this area?

So yeah, there can be no mention of excellent feats we have performed-- like persuading the kid with school phobia to show up every "tomorrow" or raising test scores a full stanine and single-handedly breaking up 2 shouting matches before they became actual fights, and teaching non-stop from thirty minutes before school starts to an hour after school ends and all of the million things we do RIGHT IN FRONT OF ADMINISTRATORS. But they are not to mention these things in our evaluations, because then someone would actually have to pay attention. This timidity on the part of the human resources honchos also explains why I am implacably opposed to merit pay, by the way, because the real teachers of merit tend to go about their business and tend to be too busy to ingratiate themselves to administrators.

And then, there's the other end of the spectrum. Weak teachers also benefit from this spinelessness-- er, I mean, "lack of exactitude"-- because the administrators are uninterested in doing the real work that is required to make sure that they are not sued should they actually attempt to terminate a teacher who is not getting the job done-- like the guy who borrows everyone else's lessons but perks along under the radar because he is pressed and well-dressed at all times and he hangs out in the principal's office during his free time (and frankly, he's got a lot of that). Add the fact that he has administrator certification, so not only does he know how to play the game, but he is also protected by his potential status as a future administrator (and he'll probably make it, too, since like calls to like.)

So here are the darling identical pieces of paper handed to me as my evaluation, all those boxes checked "meets expectations." I am personally thanked, and my administrator really does sound grateful for helping him out by taking care of my own discipline and such-- but we can't put that down in the actual evaluation. I do appreciate him at least being willing to acknowledge me verbally, though.

I also appreciated him telling me that when I started teaching he was eight years old. THAT was special.

But when my records are perused years from now, you will not be able to discern any difference between them and those of most of my colleagues. So really, what's the point? We will all still carry on. Some will work harder than others, some will coast, and the grindstone of evaluation shall not grind either of them differently.

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At 12/12/09, 7:48 PM, Blogger NYC Educator said...

I think you need to terrorize the guy who told you how old he was when you started teaching. I'm thinking biblical plagues or something. All in good fun, of course, and nothing need exceed expectations.

At 12/13/09, 8:39 AM, Blogger Ms. George said...

Our end of the year evals are filled out by...us.
WE have to write about what we've done, what our goals are, learning plans and the like, then send it via email so it can be pasted onto the form signed by whichever admin gets that section of the last name alphabet...

At 12/14/09, 7:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a parent, I find it extremely frustrating that the administration seems to see NO difference between the teacher who knows my kid, encourages my kid, makes sure my kid is working and learning every day and the teacher who let her spend an entire school year reading under her desk, learning nothing and hating school.

I have never understood why administrator don't actually evaluate the teachers. Most of the parents have an idea who the really good and really bad teachers are, but the administration doesn't seem to care. And the admin doesn't seem to understand how demoralizing it can be to the good teachers to watch the slackers get rewarded/not penalized.

At 12/15/09, 11:13 AM, Anonymous John Tenny said...

There exists a very simple and effective solution - gathering objective data on the teacher and student behavior in the classroom.

For the teacher: would you like to know the type and rate of praise you direct at boys versus girls? Or your pattern of response to misbehaviors? Or the amount of time you talk versus student talk versus class discussion versus housekeeping/management? Or the level of questions asked by the teacher and answered by the students? The number of times you presented a negative body language message? Or the amount of time your teaching is interrupted by either outside forces or internal incidents? Or ???

For the student/parent: would you like to know the number and level of questions you/your child was asked and answered? Or the number of content related questions your child asked the teacher? Or the percent of on/off task behavior? Or the success in responding to one/two/three part directions? Or the number and focus of student interruptions? Or ???

Not a checklist, not a judgment of acceptability or quality, not a meets expectations -- but the actual data behind those decisions. That's the basis for reflection and professional, productive discussion.

You can gather this data with pencil and paper. It's really easy to gather with the eCOVE Observation Software, which I wrote after 25+ years in the classroom. It's not important how you gather it, but bringing real data into the discussion changes everything.

I'm not meaning to be commercial here. The software is a tool to make the process easier, but it's the process that counts. I'm happy to explain further [john@ecove.net] and you can explore on your own [www.ecove.net]

At 12/15/09, 4:49 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

I think the flaw in Mr. Tenny's somewhat shameless plug (sorry, fella) is that the administrators have other priorities than gathering data on teachers. That is a statement of neutral fact.

And they will certainly tell you that they are too busy to learn new software, as well.

But I have been being showered with the love since I broke up a fight yesterday. My gosh-- everytime I turn around there's one of 'em thanking me or kidding me about my mad ninja skillz. And you know, that IS nice. But it won't end up being noted on my eval either, although I enjoy imagining the wording if it were:

"Ms. Cornelius ensures that the hallways are safe for humanity," or

"Ms. Cornelius educates the whole child by sometimes lifting the whole child off the ground, thus saving the whole child from a thrashing."

At 12/15/09, 10:38 PM, Blogger Polski3 said...

Administrators just get a series of snapshots of us teaching. Too many have quickly lost their memories of life in the classrooms, that is, IF they actually spent much time in one as a real teacher.

With Washington DC pushing it, watch out for test scores being part of YOUR evaluation. Teachers will continue to be the only ones "held accountable" for mandated increases in test scores.

In my district, the eval. form includes a letter from the administrator noting certain things that are not on the standard evaluation form; stuff like how many days you were out of the classroom and if you have been caught being cordial or helpful to one of your fellow teachers.

Ms Cornelia, if I don't get back to yer neighborhood before the big day, Merry Christmas! And I hope 2010 is a super year for you!

Peace and Love from Polski3

At 12/16/09, 8:15 AM, Anonymous bev said...

I hate to side with the test score crowd, but considering how weak other methods of teacher evaluation are, I have to say that test scores and grades sound pretty good to me. Well, that's probably because my son currently has a teacher who - though she lauds her 37 years of experience - is grossly incompetent.

She has even admitted that most of her students have poor grades. I don't know what they taught in Schools of Ed 40 years ago, but nowadays (I am also a teacher) they tell us that if most of your kids aren't getting it, it's not them, it's YOU.

There are several problems here. This is a traditional evaluation setting, of course. So if the teacher is a tenured warm body in the classroom, the administration is powerless. And then take into account "The Hawthorne Effect" (look it up) of evaluations and it all looks peachy when the principal is in the room.

I say someone needs to evaluate this teacher based on the CURVE in her gradebook. If most students are getting poor grades, and if most of those students are formerly A and B students (they are,) then SHE needs to change or go. Simple - but understandably not so simple - statistics.

It is indeed frustrating and every so often I want to just "coast" as a parent. (And what about the parents who do coast and who's children are in a coasting teacher's class? Their children are doubly mis-served.)

I get the feeling that you are a good teacher, Ms. C. I don't think in your heart of hearts you really feel like there's no point to teacher evaluations. At least I hope not. Those of us who want what is best for our students or for our own children must be vocal and fight the good fight. Policy in public schools must change and the only folks who'll change it are those of us who speak up.

At 12/17/09, 7:49 AM, Blogger 123 123 said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 12/20/09, 8:03 AM, Blogger lettyrburrage said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 12/22/09, 6:58 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Well, ironically, Bev, if we used test scores, that would be a mixed bag for me. My AP scores were far above the national average, but the thing is-- and I'm serious!-- I tell my students that those are THEIR scores, not mine.

In terms of my other students, I am often given students who need "tough love" and lots of it. I imagine their test scores would probably still be pretty awful even after a year of my presence, nurturing, and demands. And this is the real flaw of NCLB. Talking heads say that they want the most experienced teachers to take on the most challenged students. But would I want to tie my compensation to the rality that I am "complemented" by being given kids who have juvy records, who have been bounced from our alternative high school, and so on? And I don't hope that merit pay evaluations would take that into account, since everything else related to these two different discussions of educational policy have been hopelessly simplistic, not to mention being articulated by people who have little to no actual classroom experience (yes, I mean you, Arne Duncan and George W. and Margaret Spellings, ad nauseam!.

At 12/25/09, 3:25 PM, Blogger Ms. George said...

I'd like to throw my two knuts in here as well, bev and Ms. C: I have students who "got A's and high B's in their ELA class the year before who come to me and have to work harder to get the same result and are not always successful. I am tough. I have high expectations. I am quite proud of that and my reputation for being 'tough but fair.' My students write a lot, most for 'published grades' but also just to write. When students have finished a year with me they say how hard it was, but you know what, they are prepared as best I can make them for HS.
I don't curve tests, offer test corrections or 'quiz do-overs' but you can revise anything written (essays and the like) multiple times to get that A, if you so choose. I am also, apparently, requested by many parents every year. Admins can come into my room at any time and there will be a lot of teaching and learning going on. I do my job and I love what I do.
Our students do well enough on the state tests, but I never take credit for those scores and resist any attempt by Admins to say, "well done on those scores." Just as easy as it is to praise teachers for good scores, it is easy to blame bad scores on teachers and yet no one talks about student accountability. It is their education, after all, isn't it?
Test scores belong to the students who take them.

At 5/17/12, 2:20 PM, Blogger Janey said...

You definitely make a really good point with this. Teacher evaluations don't truly show the merit of every teacher, but the students at the end of the year do. Hopefully that is enough for most teachers to want to exceed in their work. I wish more instructors had to perform a classroom walkthrough with some sort of program. That way they can't just slide by with a "meets expectations". Did you actually teach, and if so what grade?


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