A few months ago, President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the Race to the Top Fund for Education. Key elements to receiving some of the allocated four billion dollars are the recruitment, development, reward and retention of effective teachers.
This requirement poses a confounding conundrum. How is it possible to measure something or someone whose value cannot be entirely proven or seen for sometimes years after the first impact is felt?
As a teacher educator for the past two decades, I see administrators struggling with this dilemma. For while test scores tell part of the story, they by no means tell it all. An effective teacher is an amalgam of coach, supporter, knowledge bearer, information sharer, community builder, reader, writer, mathematician, wise seer and humorist. We’ve all seen and known effective teachers, but when it comes to assessing qualities, the essence of an effective teacher is maddeningly hard to pin down.
Mrs. Kovacs was my third grade teacher. Each student was the beneficiary of her many gifts. My reading level was high, but I was shy. My classmate Robert was social, but his painful secret was that he could not read. While Mrs. Kovacs helped me write my first “novel” in her class (“Thunder: A Horse”; a thinly veiled homage to Black Beauty), Robert read a sentence for the first time. I read my story aloud that year, the first time most of my classmates ever heard my voice. Robert learned to read books independently. She expressed joy in our successes, and an intuitive understanding of what each of us needed.
Each of us can recite the names of our favorite teachers from childhood. Those from whom other teachers could learn and emulate. By whose example the child’s life is forever touched.
The child’s own test data won’t tell that whole story, the story of all those tomorrows.
Teaching is, after all, a deeply human endeavor. It is hard work alongside children with complex lives, to nurturing them equally and profoundly, both intellectually and emotionally. The elusive qualities that add up to lifelong success belong on the assessment grid too. So young teachers entering the field have a more specific road map for their own successful journey. So longtime teachers can change course if necessary to fulfill their professional responsibilities.
I propose Six Standards for TE (Teacher Effectiveness) Measurement that would be used in addition to the students’ standardized test data in identifying and assessing the qualities of a truly effective teacher. The teacher him or herself would be assessed by a combination of administrators, peers and students.
Reads professional books and visits relevant websites, receives ongoing training, participates actively in on site professional development opportunities: mentors other teachers, receives mentoring willingly and openly. Assessment rubrics conducted by administrators and through a peer review.
Builds on curricular knowledge through ongoing professional development opportunities, online and otherwise, refreshes knowledge constantly. Is open to technology and incorporates it into classroom practice. Assessment rubrics conducted by administrators and students.
Relates to children, creates an atmosphere of learning and peace in the classroom. Assessment rubrics conducted by students (or if K-2, interviews of students by administrators) and in observations by administrators using assessment rubrics.
Motivates students on a daily basis. Assessment rubrics completed by students.
Classroom environment reflects active learning; rigorous and collaborative environments are structured and organized; time is managed well and there is a clear understanding of use of time and what is being taught within those time frames. Assessment rubrics conducted by administrators and peers.
Creates and enacts structured lessons, lessons are part of an articulated vision of the desired outcomes for the year; each week is formally organized and can be clearly understood by students. Assessment rubrics conducted by administrators and peers.
Recently, I called my old school district to find out if I could thank Mrs. Kovacs. I was told she had only taught for two years before she was killed in a car accident. A day later I received a call from the school. They told me that within that same week I had called, a man, another former student, had also called asking about her. Since she’d only taught those two years, they thought I’d appreciate the coincidence. But they didn’t know his name. My guess is that it was Robert.