Saturday, January 3, 2015

Teacher Evaluation Systems: A Teacher's Perspective

Note: This is part one of a two-part blog series. Part two is linked at the bottom of this post.

You know the conversations. Chances are, you have been a part of one recently. Maybe the consoler or the one who feels like breaking down at any given moment.
They are the conversations that are happening after school and in passing, in workrooms and in closed-door classrooms. Some are short need-a-moment-to-vent rants, some are lengthy and may involve tears and/or anger, but they almost always involve frustration. They are the conversations that are taking place among teachers. Teachers who are expected to work miracles (not in the cliché sense, but in the literal sense). Teachers who are expected to do the impossible that have to lean on one another to save their sanity. There is a lot of venting about the pressures of all that teachers are facing, but there is more than that in these conversations. They are unfalteringly supportive. “What can I do to help?” “Let’s come up with a plan of action.” “Here is something I have tried that occasionally works with [insert the name of any student who is particularly challenging behaviorally, academically, or emotionally.]” While the fact that teachers will help each other through whatever difficulty they are faced with at the moment is amazing, things aren’t getting better.

Teachers have never been under as much scrutiny as they are now and teachers (novice and experienced) are leaving the field at a staggering rate (according to a report by the Alliance for Excellence, about 13 percent of the nation’s 3.4 million teachers move schools or leave the profession every year) and it has little to nothing to do with the students. Teachers are faced with impossible jobs- doing whatever it takes to make every child successful. So. The system has to improve. Politicians feel the pressure to improve, so the Department of Education pressures superintendents, so they pressure principals, who in turn pressure teachers. The pressure is coming from so far up and is so widespread, it is too much to bear. Teachers cannot do what is being demanded of them. But, it is the spirit of a teacher to try. They will try, but it is this pressure to be more than perfect that is making so many teachers leave. 
Teachers accept the challenges thrown their way with a willing spirit. No one wants to see a child be successful more than a teacher. Teachers are working endless hours to try to meet the unique and wide-ranging needs of students, but as soon as a child does not score “worthy” on an assessment, the teachers are interrogated, um, I mean…questioned by the principal/assistant principal/instructional facilitator/coach/all of the above. “What have you done to ensure success for this child? Can you provide documentation?” “What else can be done to help this child?” “Have you tried [insert latest-flavor-of-the-month-trend in teaching]?” So, even though teachers are worn frail, they gladly accept the guidance and agree to try something else.
Teachers expect to work really hard to help students. And, if this was all the job was, I think teachers would be very successful. But, teachers are also expected to attend daily and weekly meetings, sponsor a club or an organization, be a member of a professional organization, contribute to professional learning teams (non-school time professional book studies), chair committees, meet with/call/email parents, attend athletic/choir/band/drama/art functions, etc. Once again, I think teachers could even handle all those things that come along with being a teacher. But, I think the straw that has broken the backs of so many teachers is that now they are required to prove what they do. Teachers must provide extensive documentation of excellence for every part of their job. (Some say there are 22.) Teachers must be observed informally and formally frequently, observations which are usually accompanied by pre- and post- observation conferences. This added facet of documenting a teacher’s job nearly doubles the amount of time he/she already takes to do it. But what happens when they are already spending more than half their day working? Precisely. These recently adopted teacher evaluation systems have made a teacher’s job nearly impossible.

 Artifact collection has sucked the joy out of classrooms. Teaching is a joyful thing because the triumphs of seeing a child light up far outweigh the negatives of teaching. But when it is required of teachers to prove that they are doing their jobs well, it is causing teachers to not do their jobs well. Teachers are sacrificing time that should be spent preparing lessons and going to basketball games and calling parents to now find a way to document that they read and used a recent article to write their lesson plan and to write a little blurb about how much more effective the learning was because of the article.

Teacher evaluation systems vary across the country and even within states, but the common theme heard from teachers from multiple states with multiple systems is that the new evaluation systems are hurting education. Some are tied to student test scores and some require artifactual (not a word, but should be) proof. Some of the ideas and principles on which these systems are founded are great, but the ways they are being manipulated into teacher evaluation systems are not. Charlotte Danielson, Madeline Hunter, Robert Marzano, CEL-5D, etc. are not unlike No Child Left Behind…fantastic in theory, but misery in real life.

Glitter Meets Glue Charlotte Danielson Meme
Meme by Glitter Meets Glue Designs
So, my message to the powers-that-be is this: Please hire educators that you trust to do their job and LET THEM DO IT. Observe, critique, support, but allow them to teach without piling their plates so full that they cannot.

My message to the teachers out there is this: Persevere. The pendulum will swing soon and hopefully land in the middle for a while. Hopefully before all the good teachers leave. And, stay tuned. Part II of this series will give useful strategies to help through your evaluation process. Until then, my sincere good wishes to you!

Part II of this post can be found here.