Sunday, June 4, 2017

Some Unpopular Thoughts About Teacher Evaluations by Dr. Mitchell Robinson


With respect to teacher evaluation: I've been working on teacher eval for most of my career as a teacher, administrator, and teacher educator, and all I can say is that the current system is the worst I've ever seen. If its goal was to get rid of the "bad teachers" it has been spectacularly ineffective. Every form of teacher eval winds up identifying between 1-3% of teachers as "ineffective"--yet we continue to spend precious money and time in the vain attempt to purge the system of these "bad teachers".

Here's the truth--it's a colossal waste of time. Why? Not because there are zero weak teachers--there are some, though a surprisingly small number. Because bad teachers self-select, and weed themselves out of the classroom well before any eval system "catches" them. Why? because the job is too hard to do it without finding any level of satisfaction or fulfillment--and the money isn't good enough to keep them in, unlike other jobs where people report low satisfaction, but remain in the job for the financial rewards.

Here's another truth--we know quite a lot about how to evaluate teachers. And we, quite simply, don't have the stomach to do it. Because it requires time, money, and effort. It requires knowledgeable experts to spend copious amounts of time in teachers' classrooms, watching them teach, talking about teaching, providing PD to address the teacher's reflections on their practice, and targeted feedback on matters of content, pedagogy, and instruction.

I've worked in such a system, and even though it wasn't perfect, it worked better than just about any other approach. It still didn't "catch" large numbers of bad teachers--because they just don't exist. what it did do was empower those teachers to own their own practice, and to be responsible for their own improvement. It also was a valuable form of PD for the experienced teachers who served as the "evaluators," many of whom reported that they learned more about teaching from participating in the process than from other forms of PD.

You know what isn't very useful? For non-experts to provide their "feedback" on teacher quality--which in our current environment is most of what we get.

At the risk of sounding rude and condescending, unless it's about providing evidence of a teacher abusing a child or committing some sort of crime against a child--in which case, as a court-mandate reporter, I'm obligated to go to law enforcement with those claims--I really am not interested in "your thoughts" about how well you think your kid's teacher is doing. Because you don't know.

The teacher one parent thinks is awful, another parent thinks is a hero. It's why we don't have the relatives of crime victims serve as the judge and jury for the persons suspected of committing those crimes. They aren't objective--they aren't supposed to be. Parents are supposed to see the world through their kids' eyes. it's not their job to evaluate teachers. And unless you are a teacher, or an administrator in your kid's school, it's not your job either.

I've been teaching since 1980, and get asked to do teacher evaluation of music teachers all the time--and I always say no. Not because I don't know what "good teaching" looks like--I do. But that's just *my* opinion of what good teaching looks--or sounds--like. Because I don't feel qualified to judge another teacher if I haven't worked in their context; understand their students, their colleagues and principals, understand their building and district "culture", who had their job before they did, what are the community's expectations, what that teacher's background is, and dozens of other specifics that can't be captured on the 4 point scale we currently use.

With respect to parents as "consumers": when you make this comparison it only reveals your misunderstanding of the complexity of teaching and learning. Education is not a business. and it should not be run like one. My kids have had teachers I thought were great, and ones I didn't think were so hot. It happens. When it does, it's my job to do what I can to help my child keep learning. Not to pretend I know better than them how to do their job--because guess what? I don't. And neither do you.

With respect to improving parental involvement: you know what teachers want you to do? Help their kids do their home work, make sure they practice their instruments, make sure they get to all school events, concerts, plays, sporting events, etc., travel with them, take them to museums, art galleries, watch movies, read to them, feed them healthy meals, spoil them with ice cream, sing to them, play with them. and try to support what we do with them for 7-8 hours per day. Let them know that all those tests they are forced to take don't tell us anything about how much they know. and that they should respect their teachers--and model that respect by not complaining about them at home in front of their kids.

Flame away!

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