How I Survived a Teacher Evaluation Pop Quiz
At my school, there’s a lot of talk about Washington state’s new teacher evaluation system, which will be implemented statewide in Fall 2013. Principals are gearing up to measure teacher performance and teachers are working to strengthen their practice around eight new criteria. Last week, such preparatory efforts became very real to me. At my high school, where I teach American Literature and Mythology, the rubber was about to meet the road in evaluation. Here’s what happened:
8:41 am—I receive an email from my vice principal. He asks if I’d be willing to be on deck for a “quick” observation tomorrow at 8:00 am. He wants to practice using the new evaluation tool in the “real world” (instead of in a training). Specifically, he would like to see how I help students “effectively interact with new knowledge.” Would I be game?
8:43 am—I email back, “You bet. All good.”
8:43 – 11:30 am—I ponder and slightly panic while I wait for the vice principal’s response. Of course I help students interact with new knowledge. But just how effective am I?
11:35 – 11:44 am—During lunch, I watch “Inquiry-Based Discussion,” a Success at the Core video, hoping that it will refresh my understanding of what good inquiry-based discussions look like. The video reminds me that no matter how interesting the conversation in class sounds, no matter how well-behaved the class is while others are speaking, no matter how much time a skilled group of talkers can eat up during class, there are still lots of kids who do not speak. How do I know that the silent students are interacting with the text? How do I scaffold my instruction and activities so they might speak more readily? ”Inquiry-Based Discussion” reminds me to give students focused, direct paths into the text through a good question or two. It also reminds me of the importance of asking students to formulate their thoughts in a reading journal before the discussion.
11:50 am—I change my homework assignment for the night from some “drill and kill” on nouns to a couple of short-answer questions about the text we are reading. Homework that will prepare them for discussion. Homework that will show me what the quiet students are thinking, even if they don’t participate in the discussion. The noun homework was, upon reflection, a poorly thought-out assignment meant to keep kids busy and parents happy with the “rigor” of English class. I need homework that is going to improve class and connect students to our material. So I wrote some questions around the reading. One question was text-based. The other asks students how the theme of the text applies to their own lives.
11:56 am – 12:15 pm—Lesson planning continues after lunch. I know that, in addition to our text discussion, I still need to review nouns tomorrow in class. I wonder, “Does Success at the Core have strategy to help me enliven this part of the lesson?” As I browse the Teacher Development strategies list, I see “Connecting Content to Students’ Lives.” It reminds teachers that to practice a concept as abstract as nouns, I need to connect it to my students’ lives! As the late January sun shines through my window, my eyes come to rest on the soccer ball in the back of my room. I’m inspired.
8:04 am, the next day—I stand in front of the room, holding a soccer ball, and ask: “Who can give me an example of a concrete noun? Name it and the soccer ball is coming to you.” This class is made up almost entirely of soccer players who want that ball in their hands. Quickly, they turn to each other, asking, “Wait, what’s a concrete noun?”
8:12 am—The entire class has just spent ten minutes tossing a soccer ball all around the room, calling out different types of nouns in order to get the ball. At first, I would specify the type of noun (“plural,” “abstract,” or “possessive”) and a student would raise their hand for the ball. Soon, students who had the ball would call out noun types and pass the ball to a peer for an answer. My favorite moment of the morning came when Omar, a student who has only been in the U.S. for about 20 months, easily identified a concrete noun (“soccer ball”). He then called out “pronoun” and tossed the ball to one of the many raised hands.
8:32 am—For the past twenty minutes, students have discussed last night’s story about early explorers landing on the North American coast. They refer to their reading journals to share their thoughts on whether or not survival justifies any action. Most students are highly engaged—as am I. I’ve completely forgotten that my boss is silently observing my instruction. The simple techniques I reviewed in the Success at the Core video reminded me that good teachers do not need to worry about evaluations. Good teachers need to keep worrying about their students’ learning. If you keep your eye on that ball, the rest will take care of itself.
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