Monday, March 22, 2010

Oh Yeah? Well, Evaluate THIS!

You know, the image of teachers being painted in the media lately is really starting to grind my gears. I mean, it seems as if everyone who is currently NOT IN THE CLASSROOM a) feels like their opinion should be known and heard loud and clear (for some reason) and/or b) thinks of teachers as total morons who spend their days thinking up ways to avoid doing hard work and cowering behind a fancy bulletin board aimed at distraction when an administrator happens to walk by.


Like we’re all high fiving each other in secret because we “got away with something”? Like we should all watch out before someone fires us and teaches our cowering, lazy butts a lesson?

I, for one, never shied away from hard work if I believed in what I was doing and thought it would yield results for my friends. Sometimes, I took on ADDITIONAL work (on top of the mandated dog-and-pony paper trail we were required to create) to achieve better results for my friends. I also never cowered. EVER. I'm not the one who should be ashamed after all.

This weekend, I read this opinion piece in the NY Times about teacher evaluations. At first, I was all, "Who grades the graders? What a great title! What a great idea! OF COURSE teachers should get to evaluate the performance of their administration. Right?"

Then I read the actual piece and realize that they BARELY touched on the idea of teachers having a say at all and really just focused on how crappy our evaluation system is. And I totally agree. Teacher evaluations are currently pretty crappy and useless. But somehow, The Powers That Be make it sound like it's the TEACHERS’ FAULT that our evaluations suck. I mean, talk about confusing your ass with your elbow (as my grandmother would say).

I have written here before about how sucky and unproductive my past observations were. I felt like I was begging someone, "Please come to my room. Watch me. Give me some feedback. Give me something to work on....I'll take anything!!" Because, you know what? If you're a good teacher and it looks like you've crossed all your t's and dotted all your i's, do you know what happens then?

You get more challenging feedback to push you as a professional? No.
You get to initiate interesting side projects to push you as a professional? No.
You get to observe your co-workers to encourage learning from one another? No.

You get ignored. Hard core. No matter how fabulous your shoes are. Which at first sounds lovely, but is really mind numbing when you're the type of person who is constantly trying to improve. And really, aren't the best teachers constantly trying to improve? Evidently, those of us with tenure immediately become drooling idiots who refuse to do anything that isn’t clearly stated in our contract. Or at least that’s the popular word on the street these days. Boyfriend, listen, if we stuck to “just the contract” we’d be in a lot worse shape! (I don’t know who “boyfriend” is, but that last statement just felt like it called for a “boyfriend”, don’t you think?)

An example:
A few years ago, as a tenured teacher, I learned that I was entitled to doing a year-long investigation into a topic of my choosing, which had to be approved by my administrator. Hot, right? I'm imagining all these fabulous projects where teachers try new strategies or author new units and share it with one another and it all turns into one big, super nerdy teacher love fest! Needless to say, I. Was. Pumped.

I designed this elaborate study regarding the use of classroom space to promote increased student independence and was stoked. Nerd alert! Nerd alert! With my supervisor, The Weave (insert ominous music here), I laid out dates throughout the year when I would have to check in regarding my progress.

Date number one comes. Nothing.
Date number two comes. Nothing.
Date number three comes. Guess what? It also goes. Annnnnd....Nothing.

No email, no phone call, no observation, no question as to my progress, no response to my emails, phone calls or updates.

Fast forward to the end of the year.

The Weave: We need to get in a bunch of observations you missed regarding your project.
Me: What? I missed them? I was supposed to go somewhere?
The Weave: We need to get them in. That's why I hate these projects. It's too much paperwork.
Me: But I've been super excited about the project. I feel like it's a chance to push myself.
The Weave: Okay, so I'm going to come in three times next week.
Me: To see what?
The Weave: What?
Me: ?

I don't even remember if she came in. I do remember I had to sign a bunch of forms saying that I successfully completed my project even though no one ever saw anything from me.

Was I cowering in the corner? NO! I was jumping up and down like a petulant five year old throwing a temper tantrum saying, "Look at me! Help me! I've got ideas! Hey...I'm over here!" I mean, if neon had been fashion forward at that time, I would have worn it as a way to attract more attention to what was going on in my classroom.

Was I looking for ways to get out of doing hard work? NO! I embraced this new project. I was excited! I was learning! I could feel myself evolving! It was so wonderfully nerdy!

Regardless, I got an S. Or whatever you get. S for "suck it," I guess.

So, yeah, when do those administrative evaluations come out?


Sneaker Teacher said...

I agree that evaluations are frustrating. In my first two years of teaching I was observed bc I was a new teaching, because I did an ESOL endorsement practicum, and because I did a Special Education endorsement practicum. I was so eager to learn and really welcomed people into my classroom so I could get feedback. Sometimes the principal would come in and write notes down and not even leave them for me. I would have to follow up and ask her if I could have the suggestions and comments. It would be great if evaluations had more purpose and were not just completed because they HAVE to be.

I also wrote a post today about being so tired of teachers getting slammed as of late!

Theresa Milstein said...

I'm tired of all of this teaching slamming. From my observations, the administrators do let teachers down. They're overwhelmed, so observations, mentoring, and providing tools/resources. It's a shame.

Beth said...

As a non-teacher, I read that op-ed as blaming administrators, not teachers, for the poor evaluations. Yes, they mentioned that teacher contracts limit what evaluations are allowed, but the solution suggested was to make principals focus on helping teachers -- actually doing evaluations that didn't just rely on test scores but also looked at what was happening in the classroom. Maybe I'm reading from a different bias? My kids tend to have wonderful teachers but not always wonderful experiences at schools.

Kim said...

I didn't even get observed last year. The AP for our department is a lazy idiot. (As an aside, why would you make a former PE teacher the AP in charge of the science department?) At the end of the year, I was presented with paperwork saying my evaluation was satisfactory. We have a new principal this year, and word on the street is that he has his eye on this AP, and actually make him do something other than worry about his sons' baseball teams (and not their academics). We have another teacher in my department who should be retrained or dismissed, but unfortunately the administration hasn't been willing to do the work it would require. Last year they did such a sh!t job on her evaluation that she filed a union grievance and got it improved.

Unknown said...

I soooo wish that principals were evaluated EVERY year by their staff. It would also be great if they had to cycle back into the classroom every five years - and they should have to have a tough assignment like my 4/5 blend classroom with 32 high-maintenance students half of whom are on IEPs (or should be by the end of the year after I'm done hoop-jumping to try to get them some help they deserve).

I think one of our biggest problems is crappy administrators - I've had one good one in 18 years of teaching. He was a true leader with vision and professionalism. He inspired us - as opposed to thinking we were all a bunch of idiots, he respected us, and we him.

Sorry - soapbox standing done.

Unknown said...

I asked my last principal to observe me for feedback, suggestions to improve, etc. He showed up once- I was thinking to observe me-so I continued on with my lesson as usual. It turned out, he was just interrupting my teaching because he had a question. He couldn't figure out why I didn't drop everything the minute he stepped into the room. Ha!

This is my first year at my present school. I have yet to be observed. The whole evaluation process is useless. Administrators are swamped and don't have time for it. Fortunately, my administrators have always known that I do a fantastic job, so one visit to my room isn't going to change that one way or another. I guess, don't we all know who is awesome in the building whether we've spent 30 minutes watching them or not? I'm not exactly sure how I can tell you which teachers in our building rock and which don't, but we all know. (Except maybe the ones who don't).

Lea said...

I'm pretty sure my staff has PTSD because of our principal. We all live in fear of being on the wrong end of one of her rants. She asked for feedback on something one day and I emailed her what Teh Turrible Union (dum dum da!)suggested we suggest. She called my room while my students were reading and ripped me up one side and down the other so loudly that they all heard her, mainly because I had to hold the phone 6 inches from my head. I couldn't get a word in edgewise.

So, while it would be awesome for teachers to be able to evaluate administrators, but some protections would have to be put in place.

Oh, and due to budget cuts, tenured teachers in my district now only have to be evaluated every 5 years instead of every other year. Yeah, that's a good idea.

Vanessa Cassie said...

HAHAHAHA! As always, another great post that made me laugh! Sadly, though, what you described is true in one way or another for many, many educators. Painting teachers with broad strokes negates the unique strengths and weaknesses that each individual has. I'm glad to hear that you were craving feedback, but sorry to hear that it wasn't authentic. For what it's worth, you sound like a fantastic teacher to me!

Ceolaf said...

But let's be honest here.

There are PLENTY of teachers who do "observation lesson plans," thus stymying the entire point of observations.

Of course, there's the fact that many administrators encourage such practices, even explicitly....

Daisy said...

I've had some nightmare evaluations; from principals who never leave their offices, of course. Those who actually do formal walkarounds get in and out of my classroom often enough to know that I CAN'T BE BLAMED FOR THE KID WHO IS OFF HIS MEDS.

Off soapbox.

Michele said...

As a non-tenured teacher I feared the observations - especially those that came from the dreaded superintendent. Then my district adopted a random observation system where administrators walk around and "catch" you doing whatever it is that they come across. It is so frustrating to be miro-managed but then again I would rather have a meaningful observation that would give me feedback. I can see why some people become complacent in tenure and the public becomes frustrated. A majority of us do our jobs, and do them well - it's time to recognize the majority!

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