Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

A Tennessee Teacher's Evaluation Success Story

March 19, 2012

I started the school year filled with apprehension. My state, Tennessee—at the forefront of the reform movement—was rolling out a new evaluation system, and I dreaded going back into the classroom. Would I learn that I was failing my students, my colleagues, my district, and myself? Would the evaluation process serve to merely document my failures?

No teacher wants to be labeled “ineffective,” and I was no different. I wanted to continue to be that dedicated teacher who isolated obstacles and turned them around to increase my motivation and promote academic success amongst my students. But I was scared.

At the same time, I knew I was in this for the long haul and that I had to reflect on my practice and take advantage of the support system that the district has in place.

I decided to participate in the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) Project, a program that captures teachers’ lessons on video, and looks for defining characteristics of effective teaching.  MET offered me an opportunity to deeply reflect on my teaching, build confidence, and to improve.

I realize now that the evaluation process was put in place not to isolate or fire struggling teachers, but to increase teacher effectiveness and ultimately improve student achievement and graduation rates.

But I’m lucky. My district, Memphis City Schools, listened to my concerns and those of my colleagues. They solicited our point of view in the implementation of the evaluation process, while providing a rigorous support system that includes professional development opportunities, trained, experienced observers, and meaningful post-evaluation conferences. These are features every teacher evaluation system must have.

The district also worked to align the evaluation process with a clear rubric for teacher effectiveness. Just as we lay out high, clear expectations for our students, the rubric provides a continuum of teacher effectiveness that allows us to better understand the expectations for our practice, and to push ourselves toward personal success.

To me, the rubric is like a looking glass. Are you ambitious enough to aim for a high rating, or are you holding on to that fear of failure that can easily lead to a low rating? Looking ahead to my evaluation, I constructed a plan to ensure that I was covering the criteria for effective teaching listed in the rubric. I was realistic about where I stood: I expected to be at a high level in some areas, but not all. This was my realistic view of where I was, and what it would take to achieve the highest level of effectiveness. This process could take me months or even a year, but my optimal goal is to achieve high effectiveness. 

My first evaluation took place early in the school year.

My administrator listened carefully to my instructional delivery and student interaction, and entered observable evidence into an iPad.  There was a crucial difference between this and previous observations I’d experienced: my administrator was measuring my effectiveness against the key criteria defined by the rubric, and she used the evidence to show me what I needed to do to obtain higher levels of effectiveness.

In my school, observations are no longer just about measuring whether the teacher successfully makes it through a full lesson. Now, our observations focus on specific strategies that lead to student achievement.

My post-evaluation conference was motivating. I left knowing that I am effective in some areas and have an opportunity to achieve effectiveness in others. I immediately mapped out a plan for success under the guidance of my administrator. With that support, I have a better chance of becoming a highly effective teacher—a teacher who will lead my students to lifelong success. 

I’m no longer that teacher who started the school year in fear. I’m no longer the teacher who fears multiple levels of student data. Now, I’m a teacher who strives for effectiveness every day, and feels supported by many stakeholders. I’m one of the lucky ones. 

If there are to be other lucky teachers like me, our voice is essential in designing and implementing these new evaluation systems. So are clear expectations. Prepare us, train us, support us, and we will achieve effectiveness. Trust me—no teacher wants to say, “I failed my students.” It feels much better to say, “I set out to excel, and I did.”

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