Monday, October 25, 2010

Editorial: Not the way to analyze teachers

In another deadly fail, the hapless Courier headline writer inadvertently warns the reader correctly about the content of today's editorial.

Our "local, local, local"-ly focused Courier editor sees something on his teevee about a proposal for teacher performance evaluations in New York City, and through some trick of logic (or lack of a better idea) decides it's relevant to his readers. I suspect it's just because the teachers union doesn't like it, and the editor likes pretty much anything a union doesn't.

Two things about this piece stand out for me: the editor's disdain for teachers, and an inflated image of his own competence in judging their expertise.

The editor wants to see teacher "ratings," simple labels he can use to determine whether a teacher is "deserving" or "undeserving." He calls this "transparency," even as he runs down a few of the ways such systems can do more to obscure than elucidate. He imagines that with public pressure based on ratings, "Deserving teachers get raises. Undeserving teachers get fired or reassigned."

Out here in the reality-based community, even the best teachers get little more respect in their profession than fast-food counter workers, and similar pay. They're expected to fill out acres of state- and federally-mandated paperwork daily, make unpaid time for regular required "trainings," pay for their own continuing education as well as classroom supplies to support the curriculum, and in their small slices of remaining time turn your spoiled little monster into a model citizen this week.

Now you want them to wear ratings on their chests so that parents can decide they know who's a good teacher and who isn't. That sounds to me like a great way to quickly drive more smart, self-respecting people right out of the profession.

At some point we have to realize that there is no single most effective way to teach anybody anything, and that each unique individual teacher has her own strengths, just as each student has his. What every parent wants is to find the teacher that will do the best job with her own kid right now, and that depends entirely on how those two personalities interact. It's not something you can possibly rate with a number or statistics. The highest-rated teacher in the world won't necessarily be able to reach your kid.

If we hope to be more effective at educating our young people, what we really need to do is turn the whole argument on its head. If you haven't done it yourself professionally, don't presume to judge a highly skilled and artful job. Find ways to help rather than hinder, and stop treating teachers as if they're trying to hurt your kid just because they're better informed than you are. Stop being suspicious of the teachers, instead start being suspicious of ourselves and demand that we're providing as much support and respect for this vital profession as we can. That attracts better people to the job, and that makes better teachers.


Mia Connolly said...

Thank you for writing this.

Anonymous said...

But it's so much simpler to just reduce everything to a number. Numbers tell us all we need to know about whether a teacher is "good" or "bad."

Seriously though, I agree with Steven--why on earth does the Unnamed Editor feel that he needs to flog teachers more? It's already hard enough to attract and retain teachers as it is in this state. Adding on some ridiculous rating scheme won't make it any easier nor will it do anything to help parents.

Who is going to rate teachers? Principals and administrators? Other teachers? How will "ability" and "effectiveness" be measured objectively if test scores are not the only factor? As always, the Editor gives no real world solutions other than encouraging a mob mentality when it comes to firing teachers.

For an editorial board that swings to the conservative side, I notice that they don't place any responsibility for achievement or failure on either parents or students--only teachers. They seem to assume that all students are created equal and that if test scores are bad, it must be the teacher's fault.

I'd love the editors to come to my classroom and see what kind of kids I teach. Many of my kids come from foster homes, have drug and/or alcohol problems, receive routine visits from parole officers. I work long hours to help these kids achieve, but I don't see how they would be better educated by giving me some kind of scorecard.

Use To Do said...

When do parents start getting their report cards?