Beyond Rigor: The Gray Area of Evaluating Teachers

I will start by saying that I am the queen of awkward, comical observations.  I can go months without an observation, and pull off incredible feats of teaching with rigor, high level discussion, and everything else in between.  And when an observer does come, I’m usually asking my co-teacher to cover while I run to the bathroom because the line was 20 minutes long at lunchtime.  Or sneaking a snack because I think my kids are starving and can’t possibly engage in rigor and high level discussions until they’ve had a few bites of apple.  Or, tragically changing my perfectly appropriate plan and reaching for my clipboard because of the intense fear that my perfectly appropriate plan without clipboard will not demonstrate rigor and high level discussion.

I understand the need to evaluate teachers and greatly respect the people charged with doing so.  I just don’t think we will ever find a way to score something so gray.

Despite what reformers may continue to say, teaching has never been, and will never be, a science.  The brightest minds can walk into a classroom and fail…but that’s an entirely new blog post I’m not willing to write!  You can’t read a textbook, or listen to a lecture, then expect to master the beautiful, imperfect, art of teaching.

Sure, theory is important.  You will need a solid theoretical base to understand the history of education as an institution, the role of culture in the educational experience, and the science of learning.  You will need to study statistics and be prepared to gather and analyze data to inform your instruction.  You will need to be fluent in educational law at the federal, state, and local level.  You will need at least basic fluency in the most curricular programs and assessments available to educators, and be able to make choices based on their developmental appropriateness, reliability, and validity.

And then comes the gray area, the marks of a great teacher that have yet to make their way onto any evolution form I’ve ever seen.

You will need to carry yourself with maturity and grace; teaching demands a level of composure like no other field.  You will hold yourself together despite different challenges every day, from being vomited on by a child with a terrible, contagious illness, to being insulted or attacked by a child who has lost their way or a family who is desperate for help.  You will make mistakes. You will receive a great deal of criticism, some constructive and some that will just break your heart.  And then you’ll have to come back the next day, lesson learned, with an open heart and a renewed energy.

You will need to reflect on yourself every day, and challenge yourself to fight bias in race, class, gender, and ability.  You will need the skills to teach your students to reflect on the same things as you help them develop their characters.  You will need to be open to learning.  No child or cohort will ever be the same, and every year you will need to admit that you can be better and then seek out the development you need.

You will need compassion.  A lot of compassion. You will need to challenge yourself to reach out the students who need you most, the students who have been let down by so many adults and are waiting for you to fail them too so they can add you to the list.  You will fight to see the best in every student, and only let them see the best in you.

You will need to be professional.  You will need to dress and act in a way that shows how important you think your work is, and you will need to hold on to that professionalism even when you feel like no one else will respect it.  You will need to come in early, and stay late, or put in the same hours at home as your juggle your responsibilities there.

You will most likely need to come to work sick, all the time, because there’s just no way to care for a sick child without putting yourself at risk, and because even if you feel awful, you will feel worse sitting in bed and worrying about your students.  You’ll need to master of the art of holding it together for 6 hours and then collapsing into your chair at 3:00, not entirely what you taught all day.

You will need to be critical; you will be asked to do things that feel wrong for your students, and you will need the skills to find that careful balance of working within a system that is doing its best, too…usually.  You will have to choose your battles wisely.

And most importantly, you’ll need to let go of all of the small stuff.

Like an evaluation showing your lack of rigor and high level discussions.

Good luck to all my colleagues out there this year as we continue to do our best work, and leave the evaluators to do theirs.

You’re so much more than rigor.

Funny observation stories? Thoughts on teacher evals? Write a comment below!

Beyond Rigor: The Gray Area of Evaluating Teachers

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