When my first evaluation of this school year rolled around, I didn’t know what to expect, and sort of ran on adrenaline. It was the beginning of the year, my lessons were prepared, my kids were relatively well-behaved, and really, what was the worst that could happen? I could “score” as a developing teacher. I could be told I need serious improvements in my classroom management. And hopefully, I would be given advice on how to improve before the next observation.
I didn’t really give it a ton of thought.
But now that my second one looms over my head, and I sit at the dinner table discussing it with my husband, a few things come to mind.
I’m tired of getting calls about the latest Senate bill being voted on without any input from real-life, day-to-day educators
I’m tired of my students feeling anxious because they think something they say or don’t say to an assistant principal might affect my job status
I’m tired of being stripped of all creativity for the sake of standardized testing.
I’m tired of not just being me in my own classroom. And my students not being themselves.
The Marzano evaluation system covers 41 domains. 41. Of those 41 domains, I don’t think they touch on many things GOOD teachers do on a regular basis. Should I have routines, rules and procedures in my classroom? Absolutely. Should my students be engaged in a lesson? Certainly. Should my students be able to answer the “Lesson Essential Question” for that day? Yeah, maybe. But when you ask my student a loaded question like, “At what point did you lose interest in today’s lesson?” you are setting me and my students up for failure. And there are so many more parts to being a teacher than routines and discipline.
So, Mr. Marzano, Mr. Governor, Mr. President, and all other parties involved in creating unrealistic legislation and inconsistent evaluation processes, here are some situations I have undertaken in the last four years that you might find interesting… I only thought of 10 off the top of my head.
1. I spent time in my portable (yes, portable—but you probably have a nice office with a view, right?) with a student after school hours translating a letter to her parents from English to Spanish. You see, she had just moved to the United States from El Salvador, and didn’t really understand how to read Julius Caesar with her classmates. So, after printing her shorter summaries and pictures to go with the material, along with giving her oral exams because she couldn’t write words in English yet, I communicated with her parents in their native language to let them know what was going on in their daughter’s education.
SIDE NOTE: I was there, just four weeks after having my first child, to see that girl from El Salvador graduate from high school. Wouldn’t have missed it for the world. I hugged her, congratulated her, and took a picture with her. So I can remember true successes that aren’t printed on data sheets.
2. I left my class alone… Yes, alone. I left sixteen-year-old students in a classroom by themselves. Not a best practice, right? What if I told you I left them alone because no one in the front office would answer the phone and because I had to walk one of my students to a social worker immediately? You see, she confided in me that she wanted to take her own life that night. I know I broke the rules. But I may have saved a life, too. Does that count?
3. In the midst of a district-wide senior project, I stopped my lessons to give my students a copy of my own resume. Many of them were talking about the economy, employment, and how financially difficult things were getting for their families. When I showed them my own resume, many of them admitted they had never seen one before. So, I took a break from ACT prep. I took a break from Senior Project. I taught them how to write resumes using mine as a guide. Then, I made them dress professionally and conducted mock interviews with them. Multiple students accepted job offers in the following weeks. One of them even told me the hiring manager complimented him on his resume. Too bad mock interviews aren’t in the English curriculum.
4. During my lunch, I sat with a girl and helped her write multiple scholarship and college entrance essays. But it’s okay that I didn’t get to eat. She’s now into her second semester of college, on her way to a promising career.
5. I proofread multiple love letters one of my students wrote to his girlfriend. On my own time. In between classes. During my planning period. Because he can’t spell, but he wants to express his feelings to a girl he thinks is beautiful. And I think that’s important enough to spend time on.
6. I notice when my teenage girls come in hormonal and upset. And I listen to them. When their boyfriends hurt their feelings. When their parents get divorced. When their best friends make fun of their hair extensions and spray tans. When they don’t get asked to prom.
I notice when my teenage boys are pissed at the world. I talk them out of fighting. I stand up for them to other teachers. And if they don’t get their work done that day? “It’s okay,” I tell them. “We’ll work it out.” Because we will. And because EVERYONE has off days.
7. I got an email this weekend from a girl asking me what to do because she likes a boy. And I answered it.
8. I got another email from a student asking me how to use databases to search for sources for her research paper. And I answered it.
9. I got an email a few weeks ago from a former student asking me to help cure his writer’s block for a college paper. And I helped him. And he got an A.
I answer all emails I receive from current and former students. And their parents. And my co-workers.
Because they matter.
Because I teach more than English.
10. I go to school plays and shake the hands of the students who perform. I go to baseball games with my husband and son and cheer when one of my boys pitches a strike or drives in a run.
I know there are more situations. But you get the picture.
So, I have a request. How about we add a domain to the evaluation process? How about we dedicate one domain to teachers who genuinely CARE about students?
Because in that domain, I would be considered innovative. Exemplary. Whatever you want to call it. Because I do care. And if you want to call me developing, I’m fine with that. Have I ever shown a movie in class that wasn’t totally related to the curriculum? Have I ever been behind on grading? Have I ever said something sarcastic? Have I had a bad day as a teacher? Yes.
But whether a student likes me, hates me, thinks I need improvement or I’ve already “arrived” as a teacher, at the end of the day, I bet they’ll tell you I have their best interest at heart. Always have. Always will.
I am thankful that I work for and with an administration who encourages me, sees the good I do, and does not set me up for failure. I wish all teachers could say the same.
I would like to state for the record that I have NO problems with observations. I have NO problems with an evaluation system that assures the best teachers are in the classroom with our nation’s youth.
I just think the current systems are flawed. Like most of us, and like most of our students. Life fluctuates. So does my classroom. And it will be that way until someone takes the title of “teacher” away from me.