Who is a good teacher? How can you tell?

Teacher evaluation is a central issue when it comes to school policy.

I’ve seen two new and controversial ideas that have the potential to revolutionize classroom teaching, even as they’re fiercely criticized.

  1. The first, and the least controversial, is that maybe it would make sense to evaluate teaching universities and teacher training programs. As of now, there is really no way to look at a teaching program and find out how well it prepares its graduates for the rigors of tough schools and/or relentless teaching.  You can judge by the reputation of the larger institution, or you can follow the good word of mouth, but not all of us are going to Bank Street or Peabody or STEP.  Where are those smaller, less media-friendly teacher programs that churn out phalanxes of amazing teachers?
    Breakthrough teachers don’t belong in the “University of Phoenix”-level programs – you deserve to be GREAT educators, and I’m sure you remember that the more your were trained the better you got.
  2. The second is the fiercely debated concept of performance pay.  The idea is that the teacher that works harder and brings more out of his/her students should be rewarded for that effort.  The performance/merit pay movement is inspired in part by the all-too-common story of the ambitious, inspired teacher that stays late, invests deeply and personally in the needs of the students, and earns only the disdain of the teacher in the next room, the one that clocks out at 3:15 and makes 1 1/2 times the salary.  It’s clear that passion can sustain you for a while, but without institutional respect a lifetime of teaching is out of the question, unless one starts clocking out at 3:15.

The common link here is that neither can happen without a reliable, trustworthy, fair system of evaluating teachers.  This is, of course, the unsolvable problem at the moment, the kink in the plan.  Anecdotes tell you which teachers work hard (long hours? personal attention to students and families? differentiated lessons for different learners?), but this is an inexact science that might be good for finding subjects for feel-good movies and favors the teachers more adept at  school politicking.  The other answer so far is even scarier: standardized test scores.  I don’t need to go into the details on the problems there, as they are well documented.  A really good question to ask is this: if you went to a top high school (and I mean elite independent, or strong AP/IB program), did you spend much time practicing for standardized tests?  Or did you practice critical thinking and writing?

Anyway, the LA Times is debating this very issue on their OP/ED page:

I take it to be part of Breakthrough’s mission to take tomorrow’s doctors, lawyers, and Senators and encourage them to be tomorrow’s teachers instead.  How can I sell a career that provides only a disincentive for creative, impassioned work?  In other professions, you lose or gain clients, status, and respect depending on how you perform.  Teaching provides no such tie between hard work and recognition.  I don’t have a solution or a suggestion, but this country has a teacher problem, and it’s not at the top of anyone’s list.


One Response to Who is a good teacher? How can you tell?

  1. S G says:

    I just bumped into this post as I was looking for info on how teachers are evaluated. I was contemplating how a completely privatized education system would work and as an auxiliary question I wondered how an employer would find a good teacher. Looking at the grades of their students (the teacher could easily inflate them) and measuring improvement of students (too much standardized testing) don’t seem like good ideas. I think the answer would be in anonymous student evaluations. They already do this in my university. But in my thought experiment, the teacher may not have any student evaluations on their file, so it’d be reduced to what a regular employer does – interview, contact references (selected randomly from both staff and students), look at their resume, and maybe conduct a background check.

    As to the “tie between hard work and recognition,” if the schools were run as businesses, you would have teachers being paid a fair market price without bureaucratic restrictions. Additionally, I would expect there to be more schools (but smaller in size) in this system, which would give teachers the ability to change schools for better jobs without having to uproot themselves.

    Of course, switching to all-private brings up new issues, but so far I’ve thought of ways to overcome them. Let me know if you’d like to discuss this further.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: