Complications: We’re making it harder than it needs to be
by Roger Hines
February 01, 2014 11:47 PM | 3818 views | 1 1 comments | 43 43 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Shame and shame again on any school system that would spend $1 million to figure out how to evaluate teachers. Shame on a federal government that would dangle dollars in front of states, along with unrealistic requirements for their use. But shame as well on states and school systems that haven’t, by now, learned the pitfalls of federal largesse.

According to news reports, the Cobb County Board of Education will spend $1 million for a teacher evaluation system that will be implemented in the 2014-15 school year. Kudos to Board Chairwoman Kathleen Angelucci and Vice Chair Randy Scamihorn who aren’t liking the situation one bit.

But their likings or dislikings don’t matter now. When Georgia schools accepted $400 million from Uncle Sugar, the freedom of duly elected local Boards of Education was abridged. It has been so since 1965 when Uncle Sugar first got into the act of “giving” to the states education dollars which of course came from the states in the first place.

Evaluation of teachers is no system and requires no system. Nor is it “an ongoing process.” It is an act. Done well, teacher evaluation requires a few acts per year, and no more.

Anybody reading this newspaper could write a teacher “evaluation instrument,” (another prissy term we educators like to use) if they have had any teachers at all in their lifetime. As the saying goes, “The proof of the pudding is the eating thereof.” Well, the proof of a good teacher is the observing thereof, with only a very few criteria in mind, and certainly not 35, which is the most I’ve ever seen, found on a school system’s “instrument” titled “Systematic Criteria for Evaluating Best Practices / Strengths / Weaknesses of Classroom Instructors.” (Honest!)

Teachers certainly should be evaluated since accountability is a reasonable expectation. However, to hear accountability bandied about so often, one would think that teachers are the laziest bunch of people anywhere. In my experience, almost 100 percent of the teachers I was associated with worked themselves to the point of exhaustion. When No Child Left Behind ignited the accountability emphasis, I wanted to chuckle.

In a recent MDJ news story, a Georgia Department of Education official declared that evaluating teachers “is very, very, very difficult work for everybody involved.” But it isn’t. For a decade, as an English Department Chairman, I evaluated approximately 20 teachers each year. It was a supreme pleasure. It taught me much about teaching. Even the one or two teachers each year who needed improvement never made evaluation difficult.

In fairness to the state official, he was probably referring to the entire ball of wax the feds have thrown at the states, requiring certain types of tests for certain courses, for the figuring in of students’ test scores as part of each teacher’s evaluation (the most egregious thing ever done to teachers).

A teacher evaluation requires only one sheet of paper or, in the case of technical tools, the touching of four circles on a screen. Here are the four criteria which can provide plenty of evidence of teacher effectiveness. They are offered at no cost: 1) Knowledge of the subject; 2) Ability to clearly communicate that knowledge; 3) Lesson preparation (as evidenced by the lesson itself and materials used); and 4) Adherence to the school’s stated curriculum.

A few subtopics for each criterion might be in order, but still a principal, a department head or the village blacksmith could enter any classroom with these criteria in hand and properly evaluate a teacher.

The problem with these criteria, of course, is not that they are not sophisticated enough, but that they aren’t complicated enough. They contain no educational jargon, no pinpointing how students “feel” or “connect.” No built-in therapy.

So Marietta City Schools will spend $189,000 to hire two additional staff members to write their system’s evaluations? Yes, because the complicated requirements of President Obama’s Race to the Top money force them to. One must ask, however, if it was necessary for Marietta to accept the Race to the Top money in the first place.

In his novel “War and Peace,” Russian writer Leo Tolstoy wrote that an army’s success depends not upon its generals or its weapons but upon the spirit and the strength of its individual soldiers. The spirit and strength of our classroom soldiers are being tested daily. Again and again they are pressed to objectify, to engineer, to manipulate for a certain result — a score.

Notice that even my own criteria above do not include enthusiasm, excitement, or love of teaching. But that’s the way today’s generals want it, and that’s why so many soldiers are losing their spirit.

Roger Hines is a retired high school English teacher in Kennesaw.

Comments-icon Post a Comment
February 03, 2014
"touche" - Point very well made. We will end up with robots whom do not care, love, or excite our students as wonderful teachers fall by the wayside. How unfortunate for the "child (who truly will be)left behind"
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