Wednesday 17 December 2014

How Should Teachers Be Evaluated?

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 students are tested are magically perfect measures of everything a student has learned and can do, and 2) that teachers are uniquely, 100% responsible for student learning.

In addition to student outcomes, there are a number of other ways that teachers can be evaluated:  administratively (punctuality, assiduousness, dress and comportment, etc) , or through self evaluation, or via cv and documentation (certified activities to improve pedagogical skills), through peer evaluation, class-room observations and student evaluations.  I have dealt with each of these approaches over the years without ever coming away with the impression that the process was achieving its objectives.  To my surprise, while trying to defend lecturers in the programs I was supervising against the nasty notes the Department Chair was sending to any part-timer who scored below average on student evaluations, I discovered that my University’s policy, on the books, was to include all of these approaches when evaluating any professor or lecturer.  In practice the only evaluation that the Department actually carried out on a regular basis was the student evaluation.  Here we have the basic problem with teacher evaluations, why they invariably go awry, no-one is interested in following through with the extensive procedures that would be necessary to make the evaluations credible.  Even if people were interested and determined enough to follow the various necessary procedures, they would find themselves dedicating most of the institution’s time, energy and resources to assessing teachers instead of educating students.  In the end, teacher evaluations are simply a means of turning teachers into scapegoats for everything that is wrong in the educational system, not to mention the problems of society at large.

Anyone who has ever stood at the front of a classroom should realize that teachers are being evaluated, measured and assessed by multiple gazes every minute of their teaching day.  Why should teachers be evaluated when so many other professionals aren’t and no-one is interested in even attempting to ensure that they are evaluated thoroughly and fairly?  Why does the issue keep coming up? Mostly, it’s self-fulfilling prophecy.  We know that teachers are not well paid for the value of the work they do, and consequently Faculties of Education tend to attract the bottom of the barrel of University admissions.  The universities then exacerbate the problem by adopting a business model which dictates that they produce as many B.Ed.s as possible, the sausage-factory mentality, ignoring both the need for and the quality of what they are producing.  We then assume--quite wrongly, by the way--that the teachers who are produced under these circumstances can’t be very good and we therefore have to vigilantly assess them after the fact, as if there were some kind of recall mechanism in place to eliminate or repair defective teachers--which, of course, there isn’t (unless you believe in the Government of Manitoba’s plan to force teachers to  re-quality for their jobs every five years).  Contrary to the logic of the situation, skilled, determined, dedicated, effective, intelligent teachers do emerge year after year, not because of but in spite of the system.  Those teachers would, no doubt, like to be recognized, acknowledged, celebrated and rewarded, which brings us back to the many failures of how teachers have historically been evaluated, and the negative or inconsequent results of those evaluations.  There’s more to come on this subject.

1 comment:

  1. I hope it's OK but I quoted you in my column this week, from your post about the Greatness Trap, which I loved.


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