Let’s seek solutions not scapegoats for education woes
Effective educator evaluation system must be at the heart of school reform
(NOTE: This article also appeard as an Ogden Standard-Examiner guest editorial)
I continue to hear the accusation that the Utah Education Association protects so-called ‘bad’ teachers. Nothing could be further from the truth. No teacher wants to follow a teacher who should not be teaching. It makes other teachers’ jobs more difficult and, more importantly, every child deserves an excellent teacher. While there are some who need help or should not be teaching, the vast majority of Utah teachers exemplify the highest standards.
Some are proposing the elimination of due process for teachers and making educators “at-will” employees. These changes would do nothing to improve teaching or student learning. As a teacher who has dedicated 32 years to the profession, I would offer that we must address the root of the problem and not just the symptoms. The problem is the lack of an effective teacher evaluation system that is judiciously and fairly applied.
During my 32 years in public education, it was not uncommon for principals to visit my classroom. Those visits provided unique opportunities for shared learning and feedback. We would talk about my lesson, students and next steps for instruction.
At the beginning of each year, my principal and I would develop goals for my own professional development, my teaching, my students and their learning, and decide on the documentation I would provide to show that my instruction had a positive impact on students. This was an ongoing process and culminated in an end-of-year review.
The artifacts were numerous. They included a variety of informal and formal test results such as Developmental Reading Assessments, Criterion Referenced Tests, DIBELS Test of Reading Fluency, Gates MacGinitie Reading Assessments on decoding, comprehension vocabulary, math assessments, pre- and post-instruction, anecdotal records, quizzes, daily assignments, student feedback and many others. In addition, the parents of my students received regular reports of their child’s progress, including a year-end summary of growth.
While all of this is essential, the most critical pieces of my evaluation were the conversations with my administrator about my teaching practice. We would look at these assessments and I would ask myself what worked, what needed improvement, what were the next steps, and what would I do differently. In addition, I looked at each student as an individual in determining what learning took place, what needs were still present, and what would be next steps for improving that child’s learning. This process is called ‘reflective practice.’
As class sizes increase, the ability to individualize student instruction becomes more difficult. Unfortunately, opportunities for teachers to receive authentic feedback are also becoming increasingly rare. Many times principals do not have the time or the training to adequately observe and evaluate teachers.
Our principal allowed us to establish Professional Learning Communities where teachers were provided time with trained coaches to discuss students, their learning, and our own professional development needs. This process of teachers helping teachers to become better eases the burden on principals. Peer-to-peer feedback and observations provide authentic conversations and improve teaching because practicing teachers are talking with other practicing teachers.
In collaboration with all stakeholders, including teachers and the Utah Education Association, the Utah State Office of Education has adopted high teacher/administrator standards and is in the process of developing educator and administrator evaluation systems. The focus is on teaching, student learning and stakeholder input. Teachers want feedback on their practice. We are not afraid of being held accountable. But teachers are not the problem.
Those who address the issues by continuing to make teachers the problem are doing a great disservice to our children and our great Utah teachers. Legislators, policymakers, school boards, superintendents, administrators, principals, parents, teachers, teachers’ associations—we must ALL be held accountable for creating a great public school for every child. As long as we continue to look for scapegoats, our children will suffer.
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