Friday, February 19, 2010

And In Today's Shocking News - Teacher Evaluations May Not Be All They're Cracked Up To Be


So I'm taking a break from panicking about having a child  having anxiety over my dissertation my morning routine and getting caught up on my education news, when I see this beaut in my inbox, just beckoning me to write about it.  You see the New Teacher Project surveyed a bunch of teachers in the Denver Public School System and came to the conclusion that teacher evaluations don't mirror actual teacher quality.  It may sound shocking at first, but when you think about the quality and depth of most teacher observations, you realize that this sounds about right.

Let's take this article bit by bit, shall we? ANNND GO!

Toward the beginning of the article, the author references another related study done by the NTP.  This study "... concluded that teachers are, in effect, treated like interchangeable parts because good educators get no better evaluations than bad ones.  Teachers rarely get feedback or support and the worst ones are seldom are removed."

Crap!  Where do I even BEGIN when dissecting this baby?

Are we really treated like interchangeable parts?  You know, I don't think we all are.  I have to hope that there are some of you out there who are teaching and feeling valued.  I have to hope that somewhere out there, there is a group of teachers who feel appreciated by their colleagues and administrators because that is the way I believe it should be.  I have to hope that because otherwise, I may just quit it all and go get the application for a job at Papyrus.

Did I ever feel like an interchangeable part?  Sadly, the answer is yes.  While I think I was respected for my work, I was also told many times and in many ways that I, along with all the other teachers at my school, was replaceable.  And while in theory, of course I know that I am replaceable, I hated the notion that I would leave, and they would simply hire someone else and call it a day.  But you know what - that's kind of what happened.  There was no "good bye" from an administrator, no letter of thanks, no thank you at all.  Just a "turn in your key" as I sobbed into my wad of Kleenex.  (And then many, many, beers and a few shared bottles of wine with my Super Colleagues.)

Is it true that good educators are treated no differently than bad ones?  I mean, yes and no.  Yes, in general, we are treated differently by our peers, by parents and by the students.  And no, we aren't treated any differently in that we all have the same job, we all get the same pay, and we all get to call ourselves "teachers" despite the fact that some of us are killing ourselves making up for everyone else's slack while the rest of them get to read the paper, sip coffee and be perpetually unprepared, unprofessional, and decidedly un-fabulous.  Maybe bad teachers have a different take on this, but I doubt they will be a) reading this, b) responding to this or c) working hard.

The article then continues on stating:
"62% of teachers say the evaluation process fails to provide an accurate assessment of performance"

Um, no kidding.  Can I get an article published for stating the obvious?  Let's see, have I ever told you the story about the time that I got observed in math, but then received a feedback report about some reading lesson I had never actually taught? And then I got yelled at for pointing out the mistake?  And got told I was being ridiculous because I wouldn't sign my copy of the observation report?  No? Remind me to tell you that one - it's a doozy.  I know I DID tell you about the time that The Weave suggested I implement a particular chart into my math routine whilst she was sitting in front of said chart at the time, proving that her powers of observation may not be so keen.  I mean, let's be real about most of our observations.  Dog-and-pony show much?

Perhaps this is not the case for all of you (and I hope it's not), but let me just paint a somewhat brief picture of what getting observed can be like if the above link was not enough.


I was told what subject to teach for my observation (instead of getting the opportunity to choose a subject ourselves that we might want guidance or feedback in).
I was told the date and time of my observation, which did not necessarily align with when I regularly taught that particular subject.
I was told to work it out.

I stalled and stalled on the day of said observation, waiting for an administrator to show up, but alas, there wasn't an administrator as far as the eye could see.
I sighed and continued on with my jacked up day.

I rescheduled the observation.
I waited.
I rescheduled the observation again.
I waited again.
I waited for the administrator to reschedule the observation.

I waited.
I waited.
I waited.

Then I rescheduled the observation my damn self.

I, by some sort of miracle, actually get to teach said lesson in front of an administrator.
I watch the administrator shuffle through my filed data, look around my classroom and check her Blackberry instead of listening and, you know, observing.
I sigh.
I continue to teach.

I receive feedback in my mailbox a mere 9 weeks later.
I am distracted by various spelling and grammar errors.
I sigh.
I got an "S".
I sigh again.
I sign the observation report.

I pick up a bottle of wine on the way home.

But back to the article.  The study drew some alarming conclusions.  This one in particular was my favorite:

70 percent of administrators and 30% of teachers think that there are tenured teachers in their building who should be dismissed for poor performance.

Dude, these people are the ones on the news sleeping with their students, and cheating on standardized tests and, I don't know, leaving at 3pm with empty bags, showing up at 8:15am with more empty bags...these are the people making the rest of us look bad.  And by NO MEANS, am I saying or implying that teachers with many years of experience are the ones that are performing poorly.  I believe WHOLE HEARTEDLY that the teachers with the most experience, should often be the most revered and the ones we turn to to help FIX THIS WHOLE MESS.  However,  I also believe that there ARE tenured teachers, young and old, who SUCK A FAT ONE and don't deserve to call themselves teachers.  Yet somehow they still have a job.  Perhaps you are familiar with some of my previous rants? (Click here if you need a refresher on the Human Roadblocks To Student Learning to whom I am referring.)  (Or just buy my book and you'll get the picture.)

The superintendent of the Denver Public Schools concluded the following:

"The report makes clear what we are all too painfully aware of, that virtually every element of our structure on how we retain, recruit, reward, develop and replace teachers if fundamentally misaligned with our goals of having a highly effective teacher in every classroom."

Aaaaannnnd scene.


MartiC said...

I don't know whether to be happy for the solidarity of bad evaluation practices or totally depressed.

I can't say I had bad observation experiences because in 12 years of teaching at my school I only had an administrator actual observe an entire class period beginning to end twice. "They wanted to do more, because being in classrooms is what they loved, but they just didn't have the time."

On the issue of teachers being interchangeable parts, there was some realization that I wasn't super easy to replace when I left my school last year. I applied for and got a one year fellowship which my head of school told me if I decided to take it they would not guarantee me a position when I came back - ie. no leave of absence or sabbatical for me. They posted my job as vacant before I even went to the interview for the fellowship. And of course they posted it without telling me they were doing it.
However, after their first round of interviews yielded two candidates who both declined to accept the position they came back to me. Now the position of the school was we need to know if you want to come back after your fellowship (in the meantime, I had gotten the fellowship). "If you want to come back we need to advertise the position as a one-year position." Aha, wasn't as easy to replace me as you thought it would be was it? Too little, too late my friends - I will find another job, where they probably also will act in unprofessional ways, but at least it will be a different unprofessional head of school - which is better right???

Stu said...

The best principal I worked for was in my room every day. Each morning right after the last bell, he left his office, walked through the building, went into every classroom, said good morning to every teacher and welcomed the students. He did that every day he was there until the day he retired. It took him about 20 minutes each day.

This is the same principal who went on at least one field trip every year...who walked through the cafeteria talking to the students - not standing guard...and whose office door was always open for teachers, students or parents.

Evaluations were non-threatening. He knew his stuff and was professional. His observations were insightful and constructive and it helped that he was in our classrooms every day and the students knew him.

I only had the good fortune to work with him for a few years due to an illness that forced his early retirement.

I've worked under 7 principals since then. Some were good...and some were horrible.

It does make a difference. Evaluation instruments are only as good as the evaluator. None are idiot proof. You can have the best evaluation tool in the world, but if the person doing the evaluation is incompetent, then it's worthless.

I've also seen some bad teachers in the years I've taught (and I'm including myself the year I taught 6th grade - now that was a bad mismatch). But I've noticed that bad teachers don't hang around buildings with good principals.

Sneaker Teacher said...

When I resigned in order to move to Germany, another teacher had my job before I arrived home after leaving the district office (within about 20 minutes of me signing the form).

Like a swift kick in the a@* on the way out....

R2P2 said...

Glad to hear a good story from Stu about administration being truly present in their building. But I must agree with MartiC...I don't know whether it's a good or bad thing that I'm not the only one who has felt frustrated by evaluations.

We have one assistant principal who is notorious for falling asleep during a lesson. Yes. I witnessed it in my own classroom...and it was my first evaluation EVER.

And then the first time I actually questioned something on my evaluation, my question couldn't be answered. The issue was "not differentiating instruction." I commented that, I do try to do that, but I often find it difficult to work in differentiated instruction in 45 minutes- I usually I use different approaches over several different lessons. What would you suggest? AP hesitated, then finally stammered out, "Well, if you're using different methods in other lessons, that's okay, just mention that in the 'prior knowledge' section of the Pre-Lesson Evaluation Paperwork." Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't know you wanted me to provide you with my entire unit plan in that answer section of 3-lines. Especially since, you know, I've already turned it in to you.

Mainly my issue was, as you pointed out, even if I did want some help differentiating instruction in a single lesson, she couldn't do it.

Ms. M said...

Your description of the "evaluation process" was spot on. The exact same insanity happens at my school including distractions caused by grammar and spelling errors. This year I got smart and just didn't sign up for an observation. We've had 2 rounds of observations so far and no one has noticed that I haven't had one.

Tracey said...

Your description of your eval is my experience too...EXACTLY. I love how if a teacher ever missed a meeting HEADS WOULD ROLL...but they can miss all they want......also I have had a VERY BAD DAY...check this out...thought it would be of interest....

Unknown said...

I completely agree on a million and one of these points.

Mrs. Fuller said...

@Stu --you are truly blessed to have been under such an administrator! If all schools had one like that, it would be a different world.

In my state, the official "observation instrument" is written in such a way that a teacher can receive all "satisfactory" marks in EVERY category . . . (get this) WITHOUT having A SINGLE STUDENT in the classroom! WTH? I guess it's easy to be a great teacher when you have no students!!

VKT said...

In my 34th year of teaching, all I can say is AMEN! Glad I found your blog!

Diane E. Main, GCT NorCal 2006 said...

FYI, I adore you.

I am now in my eighteenth (oh my gosh! 18th -- but not 80th, that would be insane) year of teaching. In my very first year, I was not observed ONCE. In fact, at the end of the year, an assistant principal who was truly an awesome guy (which probably explained why he moved on to a better job) sat me down and reviewed my observation report with me. Um, except that the principal (not this assistant principal) was the one to whose observations list I was assigned, and she had never set foot inside my classroom. NEVER. And so here is this really great guy asking me to sign a report he wrote about an observation by a principal who never saw me teach, and I was a first-year teacher. The report was good. Apparently, I impressed someone by osmosis or something. And I signed the evaluation. I left a year later.

Mrs. Larremore said...

This week, I learned that I am no longer going to receive weekly walk through evaluations on my own performance. Now I am going to receive evaluations once a six weeks based on my team's performance and my class room number. My name will be in no way associated with the evaluation and I will be grouped into an evaluation with the likes of people like "the bacon hunter." Wow, was I excited about this information!!

Laura said...

Stu, I love what you said:
"Evaluation instruments are only as good as the evaluator."

From what I can tell, the evaluation "process" I go through as a new teacher is pretty thorough. However, the way that my principal skims through it haphazardly, not noting specific examples for certain ratings, etc. is the problem. I love in the article that Mrs. Mimi posted that people are dumping MILLIONS of dollars into creating some paper to solve this problem, when the problem is the PEOPLE! It's always the people.

and another gem...
"But I've noticed that bad teachers don't hang around buildings with good principals."

It trickles from the top down. Because of snow days, our conferences with parents had to be rescheduled. My grade level team rescheduled ours, and some of us stayed longer than our conferences so we could fulfill the three hours we were supposed to be there. Apparently, there are some teachers who "don't have any conferences" to make up, who just plan on NOT COMING IN AT ALL, despite the fact that we are given a day off in the spring because of the hours supposedly put in for these conferences. AGGHHH. It's just underhanded and lazy, but the fact is, our principal is not enforcing this. Teachers are VERY well aware what they can get away with, just as students are in a classroom.

Recently someone asked me what the worst part about teaching is, and I almost said paperwork ( is ALMOST the worst!), but then remembered: it's working alongside incompetent, lazy schmucks who feel they are entitled to their job because they simply show up to work.


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