September 23, 2012
Performance Evaluations and the Way We Teach Teachers
Following my column earlier this month in which I remarked upon dogged resistance to teacher performance evaluations, I heard from many teachers. The gist of these complaints were twofold; teaching is getting harder and that the performance evaluations (and thus pay) were linked to factors thought to be outside the control of teachers. These points are worthy of discussion.
I begin by admitting that teaching might be getting harder. I find it so, but if schools are to get better—and they must—I'd expect we'll have to ask more of teachers, parents, and students as well as taxpayers. On the other hand, I cannot believe that more than a small group of teachers honestly feel that performance evaluations are misguided. Most must realize that test scores and other metrics of child performance must be part of that evaluation. Further, it must be clear that performance evaluations must play a big part in salary and job security. These things will never be perfect, but they are the way of the world and the teaching profession has been almost wholly insulated from this reality.
It might be helpful to provide anecdote. Like most working adults, I have had performance evaluations at least every year. As an 18-year-old group leader in the National Park Service, I was evaluated on the miles of trails we cleared and the number of bee stings my workers received. As an army commander I was evaluated on such things as STD rates. Today as a professor, my students weigh in on my performance, and I am graded as a researcher on dozens of measures from website visits to the number of people who reference my studies. I hardly have direct control of these outcomes.
Businesses (i.e. taxpayers) have it even harsher. The local gas station owner cannot control petroleum prices any more than the barber can control hairstyles, or the restaurateur can control the location and pricing of competitors. All these matters affect pay and employment. It is the way of the world and has ever been thus. I think most teachers get this, but if I am wrong (and the Chicago teachers strike argues that I am), then the problem lies not with teachers, but in the way we educate them.
Colleges of education are insular affairs, and most have resisted the many changes to education our legislature has recently enacted. This includes the unremarkable requirement that new teachers have more education in the subjects they teach. (I proudly note that Ball State has the courage to engage change in charter schools and other reforms). So, perhaps we ought to entirely rethink the role of teachers colleges. Maybe we need education leaders who can understand and explain that performance evaluations are part of every profession. Maybe we need more teachers from business, the arts and sciences who understand this.
Getting education isn't supposed to be easy, and it requires a cadre of skilled, dedicated, and probably better paid teachers. No doubt the implementation of teacher performance evaluations will be imperfect, but it is long overdue.
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