A good teacher?

As a teacher I have become accustomed to grading student performance against certain criteria. This is an integral part of my role, but how about if the shoe was on the other foot? What criteria are or should be used to evaluate teachers?

Teachers are generally evaluated on an annual basis at a minimum by administrators in their schools. In some school districts, teacher unions or organizations have negotiated that these evaluations be conducted by other teachers.

One example of a teacher evaluation system is the Danielson framework.

This Framework for Teaching is a research-based set of components of instruction, aligned to the INTASC standards, and grounded in a constructivist view of learning and teaching. The complex activity of teaching is divided into 22 components (and 76 smaller elements) clustered into four domains of teaching responsibility. Click here for the link.

Teachers should mange the classroom well to lay the foundation for all to succeed, they should develop positive relationships with students, they should teach clearly defined learning outcomes well, the students should understand why they are learning and the reasons for the grades, the teachers should teach entertaining, stimulating classes which the students enjoy, students in need of extra help should be able to receive it, by the same token students who can be extended should be (within their Zone of proximal development), finally all students should achieve the learning outcomes and show mastery.

The question then becomes, who do we check that all this is happening and how do we help the teachers and students if it`s not?

Another question many teachers have is related to who will evaluate them and how the evaluation will be used;  to retrain and help struggling teachers, or to fire and replace them?

What criteria should teachers be evaluated against?

Should classroom observation be used to evaluate teachers?

Traditionally, observation by principals or administrative personnel have been used to assess teachers. How do you feel when your boss watches you work? I guess it depends on the boss! I generally feel nervous, and don`t enjoy the process. I also hope for some actionable feedback from a knowledgeable teacher. I always try to make sure that I have a clear understanding of what I want to achieve for that particular lesson and plan accordingly. However, this type of evaluation can be described as not a usual lesson, due to the fact that the teacher (and potentially students) don`t behave as they normally would.

Should the test results be used to evaluate teachers?

Yes, but not only this. Test results cannot be the only criteria for evaluation. Test scores can reveal when kids are not learning; they can’t reveal why. They might make teachers relax or despair—but they can’t help teachers improve. In addition, most teachers still do not teach the subjects or grade levels covered by mandatory standardized tests. So no test-score data exists upon which they can be judged.

Should Student happiness be used to evaluate teachers?

Yes, but not exclusively. A person can go into an elementary/middle school/high school classroom and “make children happy”, it is a simple thing to go into a classroom, armed with fun activities, games and multimedia for the children to use and play with. It is easy to allow students to be happy with average work products and not push the students to strive to do their very best, through self and peer editing of their work and going through multiple drafts until their product is excellent and error free.

Should understanding the curriculum be used to evaluate teachers?

Again, yes this is important but it should not be the main part of an evaluation. Especially as some teachers do not actually teach to a set or assessed curriculum.

Should collaboration skills and relationships with colleagues be used to assess teachers?

Whilst good interpersonal skills are important in any workplace, and collaboration a 21st century skill that we want our students to develop. I believe that the conditions have to be set to allow for collaboration and building good relationships. The factors affecting these include more than the teacher – the administration of the school or district have a responsibility to create a workplace and environment for good relationships and collaboration.

What is important and what should teachers be evaluated on?

All of the above examples are important, but not only those things. A study was conducted in 2002 by Ronald Ferguson. He went to Ohio to help a small school district (Shaker Heights, a Cleveland suburb) to figure out why black kids did worse on tests than white kids.Through his research and data a clear picture emerged.

Ferguson gave the kids in Shaker Heights a survey—not about their entire school, but about their specific classrooms. The results were counter intuitive. The students gave differing responses depending on which class they were in – not which race they were. In fact, black and white children largely agreed.

In one classroom, kids said they worked hard, paid attention, and corrected their mistakes; they liked being there, and they believed that the teacher cared about them.

In the next classroom, the very same kids reported that the teacher had trouble explaining things and didn’t notice when students failed to understand a lesson.

Students were better than trained adult observers at evaluating teachers. This wasn’t because they were smarter but because they had months to form an opinion, as opposed to 30 minutes. And there were dozens of them, as opposed to a single principal. Even if one kid had a grudge against a teacher or just blew off the survey, his response alone couldn’t sway the average.

Student feedback is important and in many ways more authentic than feedback from peers or administration. A colleague or superior may sit in on your class occasionally, but the students are there every day, and have a lot more data and experience they could share.

Overall, I think teachers have an incredibly challenging, rewarding and important job to do. I think that teachers should be evaluated with that understanding in a holistic way, as described in this blog, that also includes student voice.

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