Teacher Gets A Report Card

1954/1955: Progress Report
Image by jessica @ flickr via Flickr

There’s been a lot of chatter recently about ways to assess teachers.

Some say that principals and other supervisors do a lousy job assessing teachers because they don’t have the time, the training, or the inclination.

Others say it should not be totally up to principals because they play favorites, are vindictive, or have some other agenda.

My first two years teaching I worked for a principal like that. Now her school is being shut down.

Some say that the scores students get on standardized tests should be used to rate teachers.

070305
Image by COCOEN daily photos via Flickr

The President of the United States says that’s the way to do it.

Which just goes to show how little he understands about education, about assessment and about motivation.

The people who go to elite private schools never really get what education is like for the rest of us, especially those of us who work or learn in inner city or rural schools which, counter-intuitively, have a lot in common.

At the present time there doesn’t seem to be a really accurate, workable way to assess teacher effectiveness, at least not one that can be applied to all teachers.

I give the task of assessing my teaching to the people who see it every day and for whom it is most crucial that I do it well: my students.

At the end of each quarter, when I have to determine and enter their grade for the quarter into our data system, I ask my students to give me a grade, to give me a report card.

I tell the students they do not have to put their names on the paper, but I want their assessment of me in writing.

I let them pick the criteria and determine how their assessment will be expressed.

Some make elaborate report cards with various categories, letter or number grades, and comments.

Others just write one sentence.

The first time the students assess me I get excellent marks. By the second quarter, when they see I take this very seriously, they are more critical.

My sixth grade class can be VERY chatty and a majority of the students in it told me I should be stricter. Even some of the chattiest ones said that.

strict school teacher
Image by isurusen via Flickr

They also told me they liked the projects I give them to do, that they like that I give them choices about how to do things and what kind of presentations to do. They want more parties.

Many of my colleagues who I know only through Twitter thought this was a great idea but one, Glen Westbrook, said that he knows some teachers who would be very worried about letting students have a say.

I have a message for those teachers:

All students assess their teachers every minute of every day.

Our grades are delivered as behavior.

The students who do the work, obey the rules and get good grades are saying they like, or at least can tolerate, the way you teach.

The others, those kids who are not engaged, not doing the work or otherwise acting out are delivering a different message.

Its not an easy message to receive.

It’s a lot easier to blame the students, their parents, the community or the administration.

Next time, before you bad mouth anyone else, take a look in the mirror and ask this question:

Mirror
Image by wetwebwork via Flickr

Am I teaching my students the same way I’d teach my own child? Do I teach the way I want my child’s teachers to teach?

Think carefully before you answer. Be honest.

Or hope your students will be when you ask them.

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23 Responses to Teacher Gets A Report Card

  1. Sgtret says:

    I teach adults in the corporate world. Their ages range from 21 to 70+. An evaluation form is give after every class. Most that come back approve, but it is the occasional criticism or suggestion for improvement I take most to heart. You are brave to leave the criteria to the students. I will try that for one class and see how it goes.

  2. Maria says:

    There should be differentiation in assessing teachers in the same way that we are expected to differentiate instruction and assessment. How that can be done is the biggest challenge.

    “Am I teaching my students the same way I’d teach my own child? Do I teach the way I want my child’s teachers to teach?”

    This resonated well with me. I have used these lines to keep me grounded. This is also a great arbiter when my co-teacher and I are frustrated and confused on what to do in the classroom.

    Great post. Thanks for sharing.

  3. You get an A+ from me by having your students do the assessment! They are definitely the best judges of how you are doing as they see you in action every day.

  4. Nancy says:

    Dead on, as usual, Deven. I used to give my students a teacher report card to complete for me, and it was always helpful to me in assessing my own teaching. More recently, I’ve devoted 10-15 minutes to “How Are We Doing” time which includes students giving me feedback on aspects of my teaching. But, it’s also important to pay attention to the messages students are sending with their behavior. The real issue, though, is are we capable of and willing to make changes to our teaching based on our students’ assessment?

  5. @gardenglen says:

    I have students regularly assess my classes on what parts of the class they enjoyed most and what was most challenging. I often ask if they could change the way something was taught, how would they do this. I try to have these teacher assessments happen throughout the year so I may modify (students learn formative assessment better when it is modeled for them!)

    An unexpected assessment happened last year. A student who was now at a High School returned to my Middle School. She sought me out and told me how much she missed my class. I asked why and was told … “You gave me so many opportunities to show my learning in different ways. You allowed me to decide what method worked best to show understanding. Your class used technology to support my learning. I MISS having these opportunities.” What a HUGE validation of why I try to let students create and communicate in a digital world.

  6. Joan Young says:

    You bring up some very important points about the meaningful information kids can give us about how we teach them. It’s easy, yet unproductive, for teachers to “blame” when they feel like they are not reaching students. You are modeling a practice that would help many to evaluate just where their teaching is going well and not so well. Are others brave enough to hear what their students have to say? I hope so. I am thinking of somehow generating an evaluation for my students to fill out with their parents ( since I teach kindergarten and kids aren’t quite reading enough to fill it out themselves). I want to be the best teacher I can be and sometimes it means being uncomfortable with what you hear. Thank you.

  7. teachin' says:

    Great post. I have my kids evaluate me at every grading period too, with a list of questions that I based off of this: http://www.middleweb.com/MWLresources/endofyrfeedback.html

    It’s not as extensive as that one, but I’m working toward it becoming more thorough, and every time I get some of my own thoughts confirmed but also learn some new areas of strength/weakness. It’s scary too, but worth it. I wish more teachers would try it.

  8. burlingtonps says:

    Thank you for sharing. Teacher evaluation is a sticky subject that is usually not worth the significant time and energy that it takes.

  9. Olaf says:

    As always, a thought-provoking article. The idea of doing without criteria appeals to me. the biggest issue I see is that it needs to be a long-term thing. I can imagine that the results at the start of this process were not necessarily representative.

    A big issue in the school where I work would be the transient nature of the kids’ judgement. I had a child scream at me in front of half the staff that she hated one of my colleagues and that he couldn’t teach at all.. (She had just got an E on her half-year report. (the colleague was present at the time). In the new semester she got another teacher (not because of her screaming fit!) This teacher is known as being a soft touch. Two lessons later, the girl came to me in the staff room asking to be put back in a group with her previous teacher.

    This girl is not unstable in any way. She is more or less representative of most of our kids.

    The challenge would be to allow the student feedback for long enough to allow it to become normal.

    I could also imagine that some (quite a few) of my colleagues would see such a system as a dangerous precedent. There is a website in Germany where pupils can give their teachers marks. One teacher has even taken the website to court to challenge her “report card”. This had the Barbara Streisand effect of giving the website an incredible amount of free publicity.

  10. Yoon Soo Lim/DoremiGirl says:

    Deven,

    You give me much to think about.
    Your assessment method requires much courage, integrity, maturity (from teacher), and trust (of students). I think it takes a lot of courage to be transparent and be trusting of our students. In my experience, my students have been honest in their project/class assessments (for the most part). I am excited to think about this and implement my own teaching assessment into my classes. On a related note, @paulawhite’s tweet on Feb 5th caught my eye: “Kid Quote: I think teachers are people who couldn’t get jobs as dictators.” Ouch! How true in some classrooms! Thanks for asking me to think carefully and honestly about my teaching. Here’s to teaching!

  11. The concept of teacher “infallibility” is very high in many societies and to have the students take part in your own professional development in such a formative, ongoing way, seems a most excellent idea..

    I have done this at the end of courses (I run teacher education programmes) and I have learnt a lot about how my own trainees react to this or the other aspect or the content of my teaching.

    The reason I like your idea is that this summative conclusion does not benefit the students who make the comments and I think it should.

    In the past, I used training diaries where trainees would write down their ideas and reactions and which – we had a contract from the beginning – I was allowed to read and comment on.

    But the notion of ‘diary’ bothers my personal sense of what I consider as private, so I eventually stopped them.

    So I will try out your idea, or even the idea of a private email at the end of each week, just to see which one works best with my particular context.

    Nice post, much food for thought.

  12. Janshs says:

    When I can, I get my high school students to hold up a red, amber or green card at the end of lessons. This helps me focus on those who need help next time and also reflect on how I did as a teacher.

  13. I like the idea of a formalized process where teachers assess themselves on the achievement of their goals and then present data/evidence showing their progress. Certainly, some student comments would be part of this.

    The final part really hits home for me as a Principal as well. Do I lead the way I would want my child’s Principal to lead? That is a true wakeup call!

    Thanks for the great post!

  14. Tara Seale says:

    An extremely useful, pertinent, and relevant blog post!
    Thank you for writing it. I plan to have my students read it this week and assess me and provide feedback. In the past I have created Google Form surveys to have my students assess my projects and use of technology in the classroom, but I did not ask about my teaching methods. I will now!
    Thank,
    Tara

  15. L. Hilt says:

    Great post. I agree 100%. It’s so easier to blame students for misbehavior or failing grades, rather than take a look in the mirror and ask, “What have I done wrong? How am I failing this student? How can I better respond to her needs?” Have you read QBQ? Most colleges require students evaluate their professors at the conclusion of the course. We should more often utilize this method of evaluation in our K-12 system.

  16. Deven Black says:

    Thanks to everyone for your comments and support of my idea. I would like to clarify one thing:

    If I set the categories of my teaching in which the students will assess me, I am telling them what I think is important.

    By letting my students choose the criteria and categories I can find out what aspects of teaching and learning are most important to them.

    As much as possible I try to make what happens in the classroom about them and not about me. I try to do that even when I’m the subject of the assessment.

  17. [...] A Bronx special ed teacher says students give the best teacher assessments through their behavior. [...]

  18. jt says:

    I think yours is a great idea. In the past (and it’s something I should do again) I’ve given my kids anonymous surveys, to give them a change to comment on instruction, projects, ME. Once a student wrote “sometimes you are mean and make me feel bad” and I have to say, it was a huge eye opener. I immdiately needed to think about how I dealt with the frustrations that I had and how I was unfairly taking them out on the kids. I never forgot what that student wrote (and I don’t even know exactly who wrote it)and I hope I never do. Giving the kids an anonymous forum for input is SO important.

  19. I love your honesty and willingness to hear from your students about how you’re doing. Not only does it give you terrific feedback about what you’re doing well and what you can improve, but it can only help to build trust and respect, which in itself will help your students learn better from you.

    Now I’m also looking at it from another level and wondering how many administrators would be willing to have their teachers and even parents evaluate them. I may give this a try myself later in the year and see what comes of it….

  20. Beth Poss says:

    Love this post! I am going to share this with my principal, and I hope she chooses to share this with the rest of the staff.

  21. A follow up to this post – now that the school year is over.

    I just finished the second semester of the year. I wanted to make the last week of school more interesting than it usually is for students. This became my “evaluation week!” I had students order our labs and activities from what they enjoyed most to what they least enjoyed. With each lab/activity I asked that they put the following:
    1. Why this was a “favorite” or “less favorite” lab/activity.
    2. What the lab/activity taught them relating to our science class.
    3. How I should change the lab/activity to do it again next year.
    4. Should I use the lab/activity again next year.

    The responses were ALL anonymous so students could put down their answers. The work was done online so no student handwriting could be recognized.

    I had a LOT of students say “Are you really going to read our responses?” Will you really change what you do next year because of this?” and “No one ever asked me to say how much I liked the stuff we do in class before.”

    From the responses students gave, I found they struggled with Inquiry and Open-ended activities/labs … but they liked these most. They said to continue doing all of these. I was not asking for feedback to give me a “virtual pat on the back” – rather to give feedback so I could modify and adjust what I do next year. Thanks again for creating this blog post!

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