In her inaugural blog post, Christina Salter, a sixth-grade public school teacher in St. Paul, reflects on the harm and uncertainty that can stem from inadequate and inconsistent teacher evaluations that are not rooted in teacher growth and development. In 2011 the Minnesota Legislature and Governor Dayton passed statewide teacher evaluations where 35 percent is connected to student learning gains and also reflect principal and peer evaluations, and a three-year professional review cycle. The Minnesota Department of Education Teacher Evaluation Work Group is now putting the finishing touches on the state model.
Monday after school, I spent about an hour in my classroom preparing for what’s been looming over our heads all year: state standardized testing. I sharpened 25 pencils, rearranged every desk according to a strategic seating chart, grabbed some scratch work and graph paper, wrote every student’s 20-some-digit ID number on an index card, and even remembered to copy some word puzzles to keep my speed readers busy when they finished testing early. I left school for the day confident that my classroom was fully prepared for testing.
I spent the extra time prepping because one of the many lessons I’ve learned during my first year of teaching is to always over-prepare: get as much information as possible ahead of time, and plan for every possibility imaginable. Working with kids in an urban school environment is challenging enough without the added difficulty of being caught off-guard by an unexpected surprise.
I fully expect my students to throw me some curveballs now and then (or sometimes every day of the week), but I get frustrated when I’m not prepared for changes that my school environment throws my way. I can sharpen pencils and lesson plan all day, but unfortunately I can’t always be ready for unexpected administration issues or directives from my principal, whether it’s a last-minute schedule change or major adjustment to my class roster For this reason, whenever I have discussions about supporting certain education reforms, I always come back to worrying about their implementation. The leadership, structure and instruction principals provide teachers is not only critical, it can be game-changing. For example, the challenge of identifying and retaining high-performing teachers: how can our school systems ensure that this process is fair and consistent?
In my admittedly limited experience, my school’s evaluation system has seemed confusing and a bit haphazard. My administrators videotaped me once and observed me in person a few other times. Some quarters I received a formal written evaluation that I had to sign, other times we discussed it verbally, other times nothing at all. I dutifully submit lesson plans every Thursday, but their reviews are sporadic. Some teachers never bother to turn any in.
I’m always left feeling vaguely uncertain about where I stand with my administration. I wonder how my performance really measures up, if I’m doing the best possible job for my kids and what I can do to become even better.
The new teacher evaluation system is an opportunity for teachers to get answers to those questions. The State of Minnesota passed teacher evaluations in 2011 and now the Minnesota Department of Education Teacher Evaluation Work Group is finalizing the state evaluation model. As a teacher, I would like a guarantee that the evaluation system will be consistent from school to school. I would love to receive consistent and constructive feedback, on a set schedule throughout the school year.
Sharpening dozens of pencils and agonizing over seating charts are small, simple things that I can do to help my students focus a bit better on their test tomorrow. But we need bigger-picture reforms, such as effective and consistent teacher evaluations, in order to truly advance student learning.