Learning to evaluate teachers

In Hillsborough County, Florida, principals and peer evaluators are learning how to evaluate teachers, reports the St. Petersburg Times. The goal is to evaluate teachers fairly and consistently and provide feedback that will help teachers improve.

On the screen, a rookie teacher from California was starting a vocabulary lesson with middle school students who were learning English. He asked them to draw words from a hat, look them up in dictionaries if necessary, and turn them into a story.

. . . Some students floundered in looking up definitions, while others quickly finished the task. And their stories didn’t focus much on the vocabulary; one was about getting drunk on beer and going to jail. The lesson was, at best, a mixed success.

Still, not all of the observers watching the video in Hillsborough drew the same conclusions. Fourteen marked the teacher “exemplary” or “accomplished” on the new, four-point scale, while 15 marked him “developing.” None said his teaching “required action,” the lowest grade.

. . . The whole system will fall apart if each evaluator has a different idea of what effective teaching looks like, warned Cambridge trainer George Wallace, a former British school director. Teachers need consistent standards, and evaluators must back up their judgments with specific examples of what they see in classrooms.

“I’m being a bit brutal here,” he said. “But you’re not going to tell a first-year teacher it’s okay if it’s not, are you?”

The Gates Foundation is funding the training.

In Riding the silver bullet on Gotham Schools, Arthur Goldstein worries about New York City’s new teacher evaluation system, which will rate teachers in part by their students’ scores. He’d rather be evaluated by administrators.

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  1. Diana Senechal says:

    Before evaluating the teacher, I would ask to see the ESL curriculum. What? There isn’t one? Then of course some lessons will involve activities like drawing words from a hat and and using them in a story.

    There is something to be said for the exercise of writing stories that use a given set of words. But is this a good use of lesson time? I thought students were supposed to learn something in a lesson that they couldn’t easily learn on their own. What would they learn from a lesson like this? And how can you write a good story in a noisy and bustling classroom?

    Many schools have no idea what to do with ESL, so lessons run the gamut. Some teachers have a strong sense of what their students should learn, and they know how to teach it. Others cobble together a bit of this and that, or follow administrators’ advice to “engage” the students in activities. Schools should have strong ESL curricula, first-rate textbooks, and other books–so that teachers do not have to guess at what they are supposed to teach. Teachers may plan their own lessons, but there should be a common understanding of what students are supposed to learn. And that means literature, grammar, vocabulary (including vocabulary for the various subjects), idiom, etymology, pronunciation, argument, and more.

  2. Roger Sweeny says:

    Gee, how could we evaluate whether this teacher has taught well? Maybe see if the students are now able to do what the lesson was supposed to teach?

    If you leave out that part, it’s like debating how many angels can stand on the head of a pin.

  3. Homeschooling Granny says:

    Am I correct in understanding that this is an evaluation of teachers? People who have degrees from schools of education? Why can’t we demand that education graduates be prepared to teach? Shouldn’t this sort of evaluation be done while prospective teachers are still in training? If there are many ineffective teachers in classrooms, what does that say about the programs that certified them as teachers?

    Are we letting people spend four years in college, doubtlessly acquiring considerable debt, and graduating, only to then tell them they are inadequate? How unfair! Let’s get to the root of things.

  4. SuperSub says:

    Evaluate the actual skills of the students after the lesson? What an absurd idea. Teaching isn’t actually about producing anything… its a performance for the entertainment of the students and observers.

  5. The teacher in this story has been evaluated many times already. The story makes it sound as if the teacher was using a crude or unsophisticated technique, i.e., randomly pulling words out of a hat, etc. There was no report on what happened in the moments of dialogue and engagement. Teaching is way more complicated than choosing the right activity. A good teacher will teach with a shoelace in an empty room if that is all she has. Creativity, command of language, relationship with the student, etc. are all factors. I would need to hear more about how the teachers are being evaluated.

  6. This is why evaluations are such a joke. Teachers are judged based on the reviewer’s political criteria.

    It also explains why evals should be filmed.

  7. Diana–this is akin to some techniques I have seen promoted in English Language Development training. The idea is to teach vocabulary. Would I do it? No, but I also have six years of teaching experience and would approach it from a different angle.

    This story definitely highlights the need for consistent standards in evaluation of teachers. Of course, there are teachers out there who could take this technique and pull it off well, based on the rapport they’ve developed with their students, the classroom dynamic, and their own skills. That’s what makes teaching so hard to figure out sometimes. You aren’t dealing with widgets, you’re dealing with individuals and groups of individuals, and the dynamics of those interactions change.

    (Even scripted lessons fall into this same trap)

  8. I’m still not clear on the reason principals and peer evaluators would be doing their evaluating. Is it because they’re told to?

    If that’s the only reason they’ve got then good luck getting worthwhile evaluations. What’ll actually happen is that the evaluators will evaluate using criteria of convenience.

    The peer evaluators are unlikely to find anything wrong with anybody – why should they? – and the principals are liable to use evaluations as a means of making their jobs easier – let me get rid of a particularly troublesome teacher oh union representative and all the remaining teachers will get glowing evaluations.

  9. The rookie ESL teacher is, to all appearances, making some big mistakes. Random words are harder to absorb than groups of words that have something in common. That’s why foreign language textbooks have chapters built around themes like food, sports, family, etc. Also, while it’s good to reinforce words by having students do something with them (have a conversation, write a sentence, even copy them five times while repeating the word’s meaning in the original language and in English. But writing an entire story for a word is way too time consuming; there is a huge opportunity cost when you assign activities that are overkill for the purpose intended.

  10. This is a post about teacher evaluations. Cue Darren and his constant refrain to look what Mike Miles is doing in Harrison District 2 in Colorado Springs.

    Thus endeth the lesson.


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