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Showing posts from December, 2014

How Should Teachers Be Evaluated?

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In nearly 40 years of teaching in various institutions I have never encountered a teacher who enjoyed being evaluated. I have been both a teacher under evaluation and an evaluator of other teachers.  As a teacher I have never received an evaluation less than above average and in the last half of my career my evaluations were consistently excellent, yet I still cannot say that I approve of teacher evaluations.
In theory the purpose of evaluating teachers is to improve education.  In practice I have never seen evidence of this cause and effect, but I have witnessed plenty of evidence to the contrary.  Education is a very complicated business and there is no simple, efficient and effective way of determining how one teacher’s performance can affect outcomes.  Assessing student outcomes in order to evaluate teachers is simply unfair and counter-productive--it leads to “teaching for the test,” the marginalization of weaker student cohorts and rests on two false assumption:  1) that the ways…

The Greatness Trap: Why Good Is Good

You might have noticed that I am fixated on the expression “good teachers.”  All good teachers aspire to be great.  If you are consistently good, you can be sure that eventually one of your students will announce to you that you are a “great teacher.”  Accept the compliment graciously because your hard work deserves at least some of it, because these monumental moments are the real payday in a teacher's life, and because, according to the French aphorism,  “To refuse a compliment is to demand a second.”  At the same time, good teachers need to remain wary of how "greatness" can be a trap.

Do I sound like I'm talking to myself?  Yes, sort of, but I hope I was able to spot the signs of my own hubris and overcome it expeditiously.  Once upon a time, the Maclean's Guide to Canadian Universities used to publish a section called "Popular Profs" in which my name was listed along with three others from my university.  (I would eventually realize that popularity …

How Much Do Good Teachers Matter?

Sometimes the question is more important than the answer. Periodically, in the midst of a teaching session, I would ask myself this question: How much does the quality of my teaching really matter in the overall education of my students?  
Considering all the potential factors which could determine how well or much a student might learn, how big a difference could the time a student spent with me really make?  Relative to everything else that might be going on in a student’s life imprinting itself on mind and body,  if I imagined myself to be responsible for 2% of a student’s total learning in any given year, I would be claiming a lot.
If you believe in compound interest, 2% is a lot.  A 2% increase in knowledge compounded annually, will produce a life-changing increase in knowledge of 65% over a 25-year period (according to my compound interest calculator).  Put another way, at the risk of sounding biblical, good teachers plant seeds which they have sound reason to hope will grow over …