Evaluating Teachers

2 Mar

Sitting in a School Governor’s meeting once, I committed blasphemy –  or so it seemed based on the reaction to my question – How do you know that a teacher is doing what they are supposed to be doing in a classroom? In a system where people become teachers because they choose to, where the support systems for teachers are excellent and the parent-teacher community is synergistic, this question is naturally redundant. And yet we know, that such circumstances are rare. (And a school that has these is not only excellent but also very lucky).

Evaluation systems have normally judged teachers and schools based on the performance of their students. So, typically, teachers who are able to get higher grades out of their class are considered more competent than others. Experience counts for a lot in the teaching profession, though we know that this is a sword that cuts both ways. An experienced teacher is able to deal with the wide range of issues that student communities throw up – and I can see older teachers nodding as they read this.  Teachers deal with emotional human beings at an age when they are exploring their own boundaries and each day brings up challenges that need to be handled with maturity. On the flip side, younger teachers normally have more enthusiasm and energy, seem to be easier to talk to and are often far more flexible in their approach to the issues that they observe or tackle. Experience, as a proxy for maturity does seem to find its way into most teacher evaluation systems.

A standard criterion in teacher evaluation is also how much they know – so a teacher with a PhD in their core area of specialization is rated higher than another who may have a mere graduate degree in the subject, regardless of how well they teach. This is based on the assumption that a person who has spent more time and effort on the subject knows more and can therefore teach better. While this is valuable in schools with high academic standards, this of course is of less value where people are catching up on skills and abilities, such as community colleges or schools in less privileged areas.

Teachers are carriers of values and attitudes to life and work and influence the next generation either directly or by association. This is the trickiest criteria for teacher evaluation, but absolutely essential. The easy way to design this is to seek alignment between a school’s values and the teacher’s value system – each feeding into the other over years and strengthening a school’s ethos. As for the rest – it is moot whether this should be evaluated at all – Does it matter whether the school has a teacher who is more communist than socialist, more religious than spiritual, more experimental than process driven? The question answers itself here – of course it matters. This will have to be a subjective assessment.

At the core of what teachers do is their pedagogical practice – the tools that they use to actually teach their subject. Some teachers use systematic planning, standardized materials and keep meticulous records – and these are excellent processes that must be rewarded. Others teach with energy and creativity, their enthusiasm bringing their subject alive to their students – these are more difficult to rate and reward. Even the flamboyant teachers need to be able to demonstrate the success of their methods before they can be rewarded.

Traditional teacher evaluation criteria are based on knowledge, attitudes, achievement and administrative utility. Most teachers graduate to more administrative positions before school leadership. Non traditional approaches to teacher evaluation acknowledge the value of creativity, range management, problem solving approaches and of course ability to adapt. While traditional evaluation methods depend upon student outcomes to reward teachers, it may be smarter to acknowledge that all teachers do not receive a homogenous group of smart, intelligent and well trained students each year – in fact the opposite is often true. At this stage, it is not easy to measure teacher achievement on the basis of value addition, which would be the right thing to measure. It is difficult to assess how much of the value addition during the year is due to teacher contribution, how much due to the peer group and other influences – such as libraries, major examinations or an inspiring neighbour.

Teacher evaluations must be fair and systematic. For this they need to have both subjective and objective elements built into it – achievements, self appraisals, peer appraisals, teacher observations and records are all useful tools to such an evaluation process. But most importantly, teacher evaluations need to be constructive. Each teacher wants to have a successful and happy classroom experience, and the evaluation process must be designed as a means to helping the teacher become better at their task.

This article was published in the Times of India blogs on February 29, 2012



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