It’s a horror story. I keep talking to teacher friends who are being crushed by the new system of legislature-mandated teacher evaluations here in CT. They don’t talk about it publicly because they’re too exhausted and time-starved to peep, and besides, if you speak up from within the system, you sound like a whiner or an incompetent. Teachers are already scared and demoralized, if not actually crying (and some are). They’ve already been told point blank that by the end of the evaluations, no teacher will earn the score of “Exemplary.”
Of course teachers should be evaluated. Of course bad teachers should be fired. But do we have to make every teacher into a bad teacher in the process?
She’s the last Kindergarten teacher on her team to have a sand table in her room. A teacher friend of mine with 40 years of experience, who sends 98% of her students on to first grade reading proficiently, is now required to submit test scores for her kids every two weeks, and to document every conversation and activity she does with them on a daily basis. She takes photos of group work to have a record of every lesson. Yet evaluating her teaching, as required, is worse than pointless. It undermines time and energy she used to have for her students. If we’re using test scores and student performance to evaluate teachers, then when will the scores be high enough that the expert teachers will be exempt? Why aren’t they exempt already?
It’s staggering to think what the time-intensive burden of accountability does to teachers who are not as on top of their game.
The real problem is that we have somehow let the Bean Counters get in charge. They understand numbers that can be measured. They speak testing language. They create, publish, score, and make money off of tests that can reduce kids’ performances to numbers. They argue that you can’t argue with numbers. To them, it’s tidy to take a complex system of 1,200 kids in a school and, say, look at their average 10th grade standardized test score for Math. You can pound your fist on the table over a score that is worse or better than that same score from last year. Now they want to use numbers to pound our teachers, and we’re letting them do it.
Test scores do have some significance—I’m not saying they don’t—but they should not be driving education. That’s backwards. Our kids should be sucking in new and exciting information. They should be psyched to go to school where concepts delight their minds and foster their creativity. They should be working hard to solve complex puzzles and discover how to live deeply, with guiding adults who can challenge and support them.
I don’t want our schools to specialize in teachers who excel at perpetually testing kids. I don’t want our system to reward teachers who, at the expense of true teaching, are good at filling out forms, keeping records, and writing up goals on improving vertical scales. Teachers are experts. Because they are in classrooms every day with their students, they know what their students are learning and what they need to know. They see the progress week by week, and they see when and why kids are failing. Give teachers time to do their work, and they’ll do it.
We need to back off our teachers and let them do their jobs. It’s time to get out of their way. If I had my dream, I would make this the year of no teacher evaluations and no standardized tests. Just one year. Imagine what could happen if we drove the bean counters out of the school.