Monday, April 6, 2015

Give me an E for evaluating... something.

I love teacher evaluation time.  People get nervous and clean up their room, or start stressing about what they’re going to do.  Evaluations are the same as a performance review, where you can be congratulated for your great work and high production, or put on an “improvement plan.”  Bad evaluations mean you might not get asked to return the next year – fingers crossed!  So our E is about evaluations on the A-Z blog challenge. 

Principals have a list of how they are supposed to grade your teaching, but it’s all so subjective.  The classroom instructor is supposed to teach the state standards in a way that’s involving all students in the room. In addition, a teacher is judged on their classroom management techniques.  Generally, managing a classroom isn’t a big concern if the principal is sitting in the room. 

Beyond the basics, how a teacher is evaluated is anyone’s guess.  What good classroom instruction looks like really depends on the principal.  Patricia, one of my friends, got dinged on her evaluation because she told the students during their practice, “I want to see work, and don’t want any hanky-panky going on!”  The principal said her language was inappropriate.  Another friend was marked down because, during a class discussion, a kid laid his head down on his desk.  The principal said the napper proved the lesson “wasn’t engaging enough.”  But a student who is willing to take a nap in front of the principal probably can’t be engaged in any lesson. 

My friend Terri just had a recent evaluation which didn’t go well.  Her school had sent out new lesson plan guidelines that called for a very specific format, which involved asking questions to start and followed with techniques to get the students to find the answers to those questions throughout the rest of the class.  The principal, who showed up 15 minutes before the end of the class, gave Terri low marks for not using any “questioning strategies.”  Actually, Terri did, at the BEGINNING of the lesson, as she was SUPPOSED TO. 

What do evaluators want to see, anyway?  They really don’t know, and as a result, neither do we.  But I’m probably less concerned about evaluations than most teachers are.  No one really knows how my classes are supposed to be taught because they’re electives. Administrators don’t know what standards I’m supposed to cover or how the class should run, nor do they have time to look into it.  They trust that because of my certification, I know what to do.  So I generally get rated “acceptable” or “meets standards.” When it comes to my remediation classes, those evaluations are tougher, but still, most administrators cut you a little slack.  If the students seem to be involved, then the class is going well. I generally keep a backup plan of how to make the class more interesting if the principal walks in and everything is going downhill.

But I don’t stress much because I know that most of the time, the principal won’t even be able to find my room for my evaluation.

When I taught at TCS, the administration asked teachers to sign up for the day and class period for which we’d like to be evaluated.  I said I’d prefer not to sign up, as I’d rather the principal drop by when he wanted to.  My reasoning was that my class should function every day as though the principal is sitting in the room.  Second, I naïvely assumed that if I was struggling in an area, I should get the input from the administration on how to improve. 

The weeks went by with no evaluation.  I wasn’t worried.  One morning I passed our assistant principal, Ms. Lear, in the hall, and she told me I hadn’t signed up for my evaluation.  I reminded her that I wasn’t going to, because I didn’t want to prepare extra for that particular day.  Ms. Lear seemed baffled by this but said okay. 

The next week, I was grading papers during my conference period when she and the principal came in. 

“Hi,” I said.  “What’s up?”

“Where’s the class?” 

I stared at her.  “This is my conference period.”

“Are you sure?” She seemed agitated.

After a long pause, I said, “Would you like me to check?”

Ms. Lear MADE the schedule, and she didn’t know when I had my conference period?  Maybe I should have said I sent the students away because I didn’t feel like teaching.

Two days later she and the principal actually came in to do my evaluation during my class time and it went fine, I suppose.  The problem was that Ms. Lear then scheduled my follow up to go over my results DURING one of my classes.  I replied “no” to the email invite with an explanation, which I guess she didn’t read.  The next week, she came storming into my afternoon class to tell me I was supposed to be in the principal’s office.  The fact that the class was full of students didn’t seem to faze her.

“I can come,” I told her, “if you have a sub for my class.”

Ms. Lear looked around slowly.  “Um, let me get back to you.” 

I never did have my meeting, but I noticed that the formal document said that I “succeeded expectations” in giving feedback.  I don't know if the feedback given was to her or the students.  I try not to think about it.