Going through the evaluation process feels very different in Jefferson County these days. I know there are many who approve of this, but I think that approbation is based on a lack of understanding. Or maybe it’s just a different view of how the world ought to be, which people are certainly entitled to. This is my perspective:
I am one of those people just naturally driven to excel when I think something is important. I have to say, I liked it when our evaluations changed from a simple “recommended for renewal/not recommended…” to delineating “mastery/proficient” or “highly effective/effective,” and I never cared that it didn’t make a difference in pay. As a teacher, I know there are differences in the quality of a person’s work, and I liked having feedback that told me whether my supervisors saw top-notch performance from me, as opposed to just “acceptable.” I didn’t need recognition for that or higher pay. I wanted it for myself—a way to know whether I really was pushing myself.
When we first began delineating, I had an evaluator who said he couldn’t put me down in the mastery category for anything at the beginning of the year because he had to show growth. I sent him piles of lesson plans and documentation demonstrating mastery and made the argument that if I could be a teacher for nearly a quarter of a century without mastering anything, he should fire me. I wasn’t going to have any game-playing. Every evaluation written about me, whether it was in August or May, would be an accurate reflection of my abilities. I started out at the mastery level in most indicators and maintained it throughout the year.
After that, the evaluation process has been pretty low-key for me. I have always told administrators to walk in anytime, no need to set up a date for formal evaluations. I know I’m an excellent teacher; I know that people will always see good stuff in my classroom.
The other thing about a high designation in evaluations is that it gives me credibility and a voice. So do test scores. For years, my students’ CSAP and TCAP scores have tended to be among the highest in my department, and not because I drill and kill all year. See, in spite of all the denial about this, high school kids have never taken the CSAP or TCAP seriously. I told my students what the test has been used to do—how it resulted in a curriculum that, if I truly followed it (instead of nodding to it in passing), teaches only to that test and would leave them woefully unprepared for college. I told kids up front that I needed their best effort, because their scores gave me the credibility to speak on their behalf when it came to school policies, district curriculum, etc. In effect, I made doing well on the test a way to get real benefits for them. Poof! Better scores. (By the way, the district is now changing the curriculum to more closely reflect what my colleagues and I have been telling them is needed.)
Of course, I could also tell my students, in all honesty, that how they did on the test did not affect my pay. I wasn’t asking so I could get more money; it really was all about them. Now…? Granted, those scores weren’t used last year, but now everything’s a crap-shoot. The board majority can change things at will.
This year, in response to the teacher rubric, I wrote a tome for my evaluator. I was told it wasn’t necessary, and it probably wasn’t, but last year people were told additional documentation about their performance was unnecessary, and then suddenly, after the fact, it was. That response took 3 hours—hours I could have been planning, grading, doing things of real benefit to kids. Why? Not for the money. In fact, I feel like the money somehow sullies the purity of why I strive so hard to be outstanding. I feel it looks selfish, and that doesn’t make me a credible leader. I don’t want to be better than my colleagues. I want to be seen as worthy of being a helper, someone people can come to for advice or to get things done that will benefit kids. I want us all to be top-notch.
I think the people who relish the idea of making teachers compete against each other don’t understand this mindset, but it is a common one in my profession. We want to be good at what we do because it matters in such a big way. Of course, this doesn’t mean we don’t want our pay to be commensurate with how hard we work or the importance of what we do. This is why we want a school district that respects us and honors our input in compensation. This is why we believe we should be able to bargain collectively.
At any rate, the lion’s share of my evaluation is done. The tome has been written and shared with my evaluator. (By the way, the best part of my evaluation this year is that, for the very first time in 27 years, it was done by an administrator who actually taught English, like me. That is a meaningful change in evaluation, though not always a possible one.) He did my formal hour-and-a-half long observation Thursday, and we talked about it yesterday. I will reach one of my two measurable goals within the next 3 weeks (and I can tell you right now it will be with 100% success—for me and my students, since I set it in such a way that 100% of my students have to meet it for me to get any credit). My sophomores are hard at work on the goal I’ve set for us to meet by May. I guess I can relax and go back to my “drop in anytime” attitude. I know I’ll be designated “highly effective” again.
It just doesn’t feel the same. I feel like the kids got lost in the process and the politics.