On Teacher Evaluations

For the first six or seven years that I taught, I wasn’t sure if any adult in the building had the slightest idea what I was doing in my classroom or even cared.  As long as my students stayed in class and nobody was seriously injured, there was little likelihood that any other adult would enter my classroom on a regular basis.  Obviously, that’s no way to run an education system that spends billions of dollars of taxpayer money every year and is responsible for the education and nurturing of our children.

I know teachers aren’t crazy about them in general, they’re intrusive, time-consuming, and ultimately subjective.  Nobody likes having someone looking over their shoulder.  But teacher evaluations are absolutely necessary to maintain accountability in individual classrooms and in schools in general.

In reality, the only way to know what kind of teacher a teacher is, is to watch them teach and interact with students.  That is the nature of T-TESS, PDAS, and other evaluation systems that have been devised.  They allow for teachers to contribute to the evaluation process, have input, produce evidence of their teaching practices and so forth.   More than anything though, they get administrators into teachers’ classrooms.

One obvious problem with evaluations is that although they are designed to be objective, their objectivity is somewhat superficial. They can clearly be weaponized to harass, shame, and chase away teachers for any number of reasons.  Personally, I feel lucky that I have worked with administrators I’ve trusted for the entire time I’ve been teaching.  I don’t recall many of my peers who have thought differently in those twenty years.

I have consulted with and represented dozens of teachers as a school law attorney who have felt differently.  I’ve heard many stories of new administrators coming into a building and immediately targeting teachers with bad evaluations to run them off in order to “change the culture” of the building.  I’ve heard even more stories of administrators turning on teachers as a result of personal disputes, or for no apparent reason at all.

It’s very difficult to tell as an attorney whether your client is a good or bad teacher (or person for that matter) from any number of interactions.  I’ve learned to take what I hear with a grain of salt, sometimes a teaspoon.  However, all kinds of anecdotal evidence is available — evaluation patterns, witness statements, email exchanges, comparative treatment, and so forth.  Data exists in the form of test scores, disciplinary records, and grades.

Again, the problem is not in the system itself, but in the way it is used.  People are people, and their motivations are not always pure.  Problems must  be addressed on a case-by-case basis.  In Texas, each evaluation system has given the teacher the ability to request a second evaluation from a different evaluator.  If necessary, teachers may resort to the grievance process which offers several levels of appeal.  While saving a teacher’s job is not always possible or even advisable, there is leverage in having options.

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