Most of the last decade of my career has been working in management positions in the business world. It was a given that employees from the bottom to the top of the working ladder were all evaluated and rewarded to excellent performance. Team leaders evaluate team members, and are evaluated by floor leaders or managers. Even the CEO is evaluated by the board. Because most professionals expect to work up to higher paying positions, evaluations are a consistent element of the professional world.
I have also taught in three different schools in China and America, and I am a little bit surprised how little evaluation work has been done to assess my teaching skills. At my first full-time teacher job, I was evaluated only by my students. These evaluations occurred at VERY regular intervals and my pay was strongly tied to the results. Perhaps I was never evaluated in any other way because I was the highest rated teacher in my office of 300 teachers, but I don’t recall ever hearing about any teachers being evaluated by other teachers or administration.
When I taught Mandarin in two different high schools in America, I was only ever observed once. The principal of one of the schools walked into my class 10 minutes after it began (without alerting me ahead of time) attended my class, took some notes, and after 15 minutes walked out. I never heard from him again. The principal at the other school never attended my class.
This past year I’ve been teaching at a very large private school in Guangdong, China. I was observed once by the high school principal, who attended after I requested a letter of recommendation from him. All students in the school filled out surveys about their teachers, and local (Chinese) teachers were asked to rate their foreign partners. I did have a conversation with my principle about his observation, which was informative and uplifting for me.
To me it is obvious that much more can and should be done to effectively evaluate me and other teachers. I believe effective teacher evaluations begin with an organized administration. If the administration are clear about teacher expectations, then the entire school can be on the same page and work towards common goals. Teachers are expected to make their expectations clear to students, I think it is reasonable to expect school districts to do the same.
Once expectations are clearly defined, I believe there should be room for teacher autonomy. In other words, different teachers should be able to use their own unique personalities and teaching “gifts” to achieve those standards. There should be multiple measures in please to judge success, and these multiple measures should not be confining. Having said this, I do think it is critical that student learning be the foundation of an evaluation.
Feedback should be regular and consistent. If it is done once or twice per semester, it should be done consistently. After observations teachers should have an opportunity to sit down with the expert evaluator and discuss strengths and weaknesses in order to improve as a teacher.
Finally, the results of these evaluations should be significant. Just as in business, decisions about career advancement and bonuses should depend in large part on these evaluations. Teachers should be highly motivated to perform at a high level, knowing that when their students progress, the teacher will be rewarded.
For my part, my next school offers generous bonuses to top-performing teachers. I am hopeful that I can finally experience the growth that is possible when a good evaluation system is in place.