My view: Great teacher evaluation shouldn’t be good luck
November 29th, 2012
03:57 AM ET

My view: Great teacher evaluation shouldn’t be good luck

Courtesy Teach PlusBy Marisol Castillo, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Marisol Castillo teaches at E.L. Haynes Public Charter School in Washington. Castillo taught in California’s Bay Area, and then at a small high school in the South Bronx before relocating to Washington, D.C. In 2009, she received her National Board Certification. Castillo is a Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellow.

(CNN) - I’m a lucky teacher.

In the nine years I’ve been in the classroom — at three different urban schools — I’ve consistently experienced evaluations that have allowed me to grow as an educator. I’m a better teacher because of that, and my students have benefited.

All teachers should be so lucky as to experience high-quality evaluation. But unfortunately, they’re not. According to a 2012 national survey of teachers conducted by the nonprofit Teach Plus, Great Expectations: Teachers’ Views on Elevating the Teaching Profession, nearly half of all teachers say they either had not received an evaluation in the past year or did not find their evaluation feedback useful.

Recently I was able to address these survey results in front of policymakers on Capitol Hill. I told them that, according to the Teach Plus report, teachers who have been in the classroom for less than 10 years support a range of reforms.

The report shows that a majority of teachers across experience levels think clear standards of effectiveness are critical for teaching to be recognized as a true profession. Many teachers, including nearly three-quarters of the New Majority, the 52% of teachers with less than 10 years experience, want student growth data to be a component of their evaluations.

It’s not that educators don’t want to be held accountable for our work. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I cannot think of a single colleague, past or present, who disagreed with the idea that teachers should be evaluated.

In my experience, the angst around evaluations does not exist primarily because an evaluation system is in place, but because of concerns around how that system is implemented.

I’ve heard anxiety over being evaluated by administrators who know little or nothing about the content areas they are evaluating. There are concerns around consistency in terms of how standards of accountability are assessed in each classroom.

Many educators are jaded by experiences of failed evaluation systems, such as being praised for writing an agenda on the board rather than on the delivery and ultimate success of the lesson. Some teachers are worried that those marked as ineffective will not receive adequate support to improve. Because of these factors, it’s easy to see why educators would feel apprehensive about evaluation.

My experience with evaluation has been positive because the schools in which I’ve worked have done a good job supporting my growth.

Evaluations that work for teachers aren’t just about creating clear rubrics, although that’s important. It’s also about creating structures in schools that support ongoing growth so that a formal evaluation feels less like a random, high-pressure event and more like one piece of a system of consistent support and professional development.

These aren’t strategies that require huge amounts of time or money. In two of my schools, collaboration time is built into the schedule so teachers who teach the same subject can easily meet with one another to plan and reflect on lessons. This mandated collaboration has made me more thoughtful about my practice.

Because my lessons are planned with other teachers, we cover more ground and are more likely to anticipate and address issues students may face in a particular lesson or unit. As such, when I'm observed, I'm already confident that I've thought thoroughly about what is going on in my classroom, and I’ve experienced the added benefit of getting feedback from my peers.

It’s also important that trained instructional leaders run teacher evaluation systems.

My principal comes into my classroom multiple times a month. While those visits are not always formal and are rarely long, they serve as a reminder that it's important that school leadership have a strong idea of what’s happening in my classroom.

I usually receive immediate feedback after these informal observations, instead of having to wait for a formal evaluation. These evaluations also enhance my administrator’s credibility when she talks to me about my progress as an educator.

One day last year, my principal popped into my classroom and noticed that I wasn’t getting as much student engagement as possible during an activity. I had asked students to raise their hands in response to complex multiple-choice questions. My principal suggested having the students use their school-issued netbooks to access a website that would allow them to vote anonymously on their selected answer. I implemented that technique the next day, and student engagement increased immediately.

My students and I benefit from my principal’s dedication to learning about new instructional strategies, as well as her commitment to being in multiple classrooms daily to pass on key knowledge. Because of her efforts, I see my principal more as a collaborator than an evaluator, and this has resulted in a more productive working relationship.

These high-quality evaluations have led to success for both my students and me. Last year, I helped more than 50% of my English language learners progress out of that system into mainstream instruction. I’ve been teaching long enough that every fall I get multiple emails from former students newly enrolled in college, often the first in their families to have that experience.

It is disappointing that I’ve had a drastically different experience with evaluation than many fellow educators.

The strategies that have made my evaluation experiences successful are not groundbreaking ideas. I’ve bought into the evaluation process because there are structures in place that allow me to feel supported and respected.

The importance of creating overall collaborative cultures at schools cannot be underestimated. It can let everyone feel ownership over a strong, effective learning environment. It will encourage more teachers to feel that evaluation is a supportive tool rather than a punitive one. With that, my experience with evaluation could become the rule, not the exception.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Marisol Castillo.

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Filed under: Policy • Practice • Teachers • • Voices
soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. Marie

    Yes, evaluation is important. There should be harsh and strict consequences for not meeting the needs of the students. In my opinion a teacher that is overly nervous about being evaluated already knows that they are having certain issues and should take the responsibility of making corrective steps on their own. Why should someone be paid to tell them they aren't doing well? Why should the taxpayer pay for them to get it together? If we want to fix education, evaluating teachers and weeding out the bad apples is a start. The backslide begins when we have to pay for the bad apples to be re-educated. You have to do what the farmer does with the bad apples and toss em out.

    December 3, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • AJD

      It depends, as this author has said, on how the evaluations are done. I was confident in my teaching abilities and the success of my students but almost the only time the principal ever came into my room was during the once a semester evaluation. Questions plauged me...."Will this be the day that something that never goes wrong does? Is this the day Sam is going to not be on his meds and act up?" Anytime you are being evaluated no matter how confident you are, there is a level of anxiety/nervousness about it and that can also affect your performance. There are students that know the material very well but put a test in front of them and they freeze up. The same thing can happen to adults when they feel they're being "tested." It's not as simple as you make it sound. If principals make the effort to visit the classrooms and spend enough time in them to see how things generally go and work as a partner with teachers instead of this person that they only see when there's a problem or they're being tested, teachers are going to be much less nervous and apprehensive about evaluations. If the principal at the school I worked for had spent more time in my room, even if something did go wrong, I wouldn't have been as nervous about that possibility as I would have known that she knows how my class generally goes and that that was not the norm.

      December 4, 2012 at 12:16 am |
    • Shirley

      Many teachers get nervous about evaluations, and not necessarily because they are worried that their lesson is subpar. Having someone assess your work can be nerve-wracking. There are many variables in a classroom that can affect the lesson, including each of the 30 to 40 students in each class.

      If you want to fix education, the solution is simple. Pay teachers a salary that attracts a larger pool of candidates so that there is actually a replacement for teachers who you "weed-out," and so that the profession might attract more high-quality candidate. Does making 36k after 10 years on the job sound appealing to you? There's reason that the majority of teachers out there have less than a decade of experience. Some of the best teachers leave the profession to pursue a job in which they might actually be able to afford a home and retire.

      December 5, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
      • AJD

        Exactly. When I started teaching back in 1998, the starting salary for a beginning teacher in this area was about 30-32K. It is now 14 years later and the starting salary for a beginning teacher is still about 30-32K. It's ridiculous. More and more is being piled on teachers all the time at their job along with more and more regulations on licensing. Now in most places you are pretty much forced to get a Masters degree to keep your job, or in some places to even be hired...yet the pay does not justify the expense and the workload (especially if you are teaching full time while going to school also to get your masters degree). There was one year where both my husband and I working full time in our fields for school districts did not even have the money to buy Christmas gifts for our two children. We weren't living a luxurious lifestyle...a small two bedroom house built in 1929 in a lower middle class neighborhood, drove economy cars that were not new, and our only real "luxuries" were basic cable and internet but we had student loans to pay off and just basic living expenses. We didn't even own cell phones then. I was so embarrassed even though I was grateful when coworkers through a friend found out about our plight and donated toys and money so our kids could have a Christmas. NO ONE with a college degree working as a professional full time in their field should EVER be in that situation....yet I see teachers struggling all the time to make ends meet or to pay for an emergency that comes up like a car repair. My husband finally was able to find a job making more money in a small town with a lower cost of living so we moved and I was able to stay home with my kids with very careful budgeting but it's still tough. I'm now looking to get back into the workforce but I am extremely hesitant to go back into teaching knowing the workload, the expense involved just to keep my license current, and the paltry pay and disrespect for the profession now both from students and parents and the public at large. I'm interviewing for a job in the health care field this week that only asks for a high school diploma yet will pay me not a whole lot less than I was making as a teacher without having to take my work home with me and have my life consumed by my job and will also allow me to go back to school for a 2 year associates degree in the field with an average starting pay that is $10K MORE than most teachers make in their first 10 years of teaching right out of the gate. I didn't go into teaching for the money but I also can't justify all the time away from my family that a teaching job takes and the expense to stay employed and I expected to be paid a wage I could have something resembling a life on after four years of college and the hard work I put into getting my degree. Why is it that others with the same four year degree just in another field are making $10-20K more at their first professional jobs than teachers who have one of THE most important jobs one could have???

        December 6, 2012 at 1:25 am |
  2. Shirley Thompson

    I'm proud to be part of a school community that supports and encourages good solid teaching. This is a wonderful article. Thank you.

    December 2, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
  3. Dekcyday

    Я раньше и не подозревал, что в сети есть такой прекрасный ресурс. Здесь очень много полезной информации, например
    лисобакт инструкция по применению. Это принесет пользу всем.

    December 1, 2012 at 9:52 am |