In a recent post, I shared the view point of the person at the forefront of teacher evaluations, Charlotte Danielson, regarding how administrators should handle the post-conference piece of the teacher evaluation. I also posted a contrasting story of a teacher who left the profession after only teaching five months because (amongst other things) he received an “Unsatisfactory” rating on his evaluation. These two stories leave us to wonder: how do we get from “Unsatisfactory” to the type of professional dialogue and development Danielson shares in her video? Here are a few tips:
- Avoid the “dog-and-pony” show – your evaluation day is not the day to try out a new lesson, game, or anything else that you’ve never done before. Trust me…I speak from experience! Everything that you never would imagine could happen, will happen because you’re using a method that has not been tried and tested by you! I remember trying to play a Math game during my first evaluation. I made the game up the night before and it went over really well when I practiced it with my oldest daughter at home. In my classroom of 21 children, it did not go as well. The students started making up their own rules in the middle of the game. It was absolute chaos! Needless to say, the evaluation didn’t go so well. What I learned from that day is to stick to my strengths. So what if the administrator doesn’t see you that day playing a game or doing some other “fun” activity. If they’re doing regular walk-throughs or classroom visits, they’ll get to see the variety you offer at another time. Make sure you have evidence that these activities do exist and are available in your classroom.
- Realize that there’s no perfect teacher – Like the “bad teacher” in the article, I also am a career changer. I was used to getting good reviews in the years I worked in the corporate sector, so I was expecting to come in and run my classroom like a business and get stellar reviews. A classroom and a cubical, or a classroom and a conference room are two different playing fields. Don’t come in Day 1 expecting to have it all together. You probably won’t have it all together by Day 175 either! Know that in the process of that first year, you will have your fair share of ups and downs; and your first (and probably your second, and maybe even third or fourth) review won’t state that you’re Proficient or Distinguished. Even veteran teachers have room for growth! If your administrator labels you as “Unsatisfactory,” do not pack up your bat and ball and run off the field! Hang in there! If a mentor is not provided for you, pair up with a veteran teacher in the building that you respect and ask them to assist you. Note: a veteran teacher may be younger than you! That’s fine. Expertise has no age requirements. Take advantage of professional development opportunities that address the area(s) of greatest concern or weakness. Also, during some of your free time, go observe in other classrooms to see what works for other teachers. Teaching is the one profession where borrowing others methods and ideas is acceptable!
- Develop a survival strategy – I admit, when you first see that “Unsatisfactory” on your evaluation, it seems as though every word on the form is a dagger that’s repeatedly stabbing you. You begin to question if this is the career for you, and like the teacher in the article, you may want to leave. If teaching is really your passion, do not give up. Develop a strategy for survival. In my case, I did not sign my evaluation immediately (another tip: know your rights). I asked if I could take it to ponder over it before signing/responding. This gave me time to talk it over with my mentor. My mentor had observed me teach a few times and was familiar with my strengths and weaknesses. She helped me to take the negatives from my evaluation and develop a list of five measurable and obtainable goals to work on between my first evaluation and the second evaluation. When I returned to my administrator, I presented him with the signed copy of my evaluation, as well as the things I planned to work on over the four months until my next formal evaluation. Then, I went to work. Weekly classroom meetings helped to establish mutual respect and rapport in the classroom. Consistent discipline and consequences, along with a set of expectations (not rules) that were created by the students, helped to establish classroom management. Games weren’t my strong-suit, so I stayed away from them during my instructional time and let the kids play them in small groups after we finished testing on Friday. This allowed them to make up their own rules (like the did in my first evaluation) and it be acceptable. What did work for interaction was peer-to-peer learning. So I partnered the kids, or put them in groups of no more than 3, and this allowed them time to interact without their being complete and utter chaos, and me time to provide small-group instruction. I started looking at the flyers in my mailbox more seriously and attended a few professional development workshops to learn additional strategies to apply in the classroom; not just for behavior, but subject-based strategies, too! And, I visited other classrooms and took tips and ideas from other teachers.
By my spring evaluation, there was a complete turn-around. Was I “Proficient?” No, but I was no longer “Unsatisfactory.” Furthermore, I was no longer looking for a way out. I felt as though I could make it through a second year, and beyond.
I’ve gone through my fair share of evaluations over the years. I also have my Administrative License (Type 75). Going through the program to obtain that also helped me to see evaluations from a different perspective; that of the evaluator. The teacher evaluation should not be a weapon, but a tool to assist and develop good teaching practices. Use your evaluation this fall to sharpen your tools and improve your craft.
Good Luck! Feel free to share your questions and/or comments regarding evaluations in the Comment section below, or e-mail us regarding specific questions or concerns.