Sunday, October 06, 2013

On Observation

Reformy John King decreed that NYC teachers must be observed 4 to 6 times annually. Neither the DOE nor the UFT wanted that many observations, but Reformy John taught one year in public school, so he knows better than anyone what is needed. In our school, APs have up to 40 teachers in a department, which means they could easily have to do 200 observations a year.

Of course, they don't need to actually write reports for these observations, unless the teacher has chosen the formal observation method. They could simply pass the teacher in the hall, and say, "Good job," or, "You suck," and that will satisfy the requirement Reformy John set forth. Or they could, if that were too much trouble, email or phone you with those messages. In fact, they could do none of those things, and simply claim to have done so, as far as I can tell. That's good enough for Reformy John. However, they will need to fill out some form for each observation. Because whether or not they bother to give teachers worthwhile feedback, it's important they complete the required paperwork.

It's all about values.

For teachers, a lot depends on whether or not your supervisor is insane. If you have an insane supervisor, making ridiculous demands and interpreting Danielson the way Mayor Bloomberg envisions, it might be time to reexamine your career choice. If you have in place a self-important know it all who hates you and everything you stand for, it's gonna be a long year. How can you possibly do well if your supervisor has a prejudice against you for whatever reason?

If your supervisor is reasonable, you could in fact be offered support. If you happen to get a little support in the form of hints to make your classroom a better place, that might actually be productive. If there's a better environment for your kids and you get credit for having created it, your kids benefit and your rating benefits. Of course, there was no need for a new system to make this happen.

A major problem with a one-size-fits-all system like this is that not all supervisors are created equal. We still have a whole lot of supervisors who chose this job to "get out of the classroom," and anyone who can't hack the classroom is pretty much unfit to judge effective teaching. Sure, they all sat through some crap on the internet that passed as training. But how does that qualify them?

Supervisors and principals should be master teachers, but now we have a principals' academy that whips them out like donuts, whether or not they have substantive classroom experience. We even have chancellors who lack the qualifications teachers need to lead classrooms. The evaluation system is crap, but imaginative and qualified supervisors will figure ways to deal with it, and will treat teachers fairly. Unless, of course, the test scores don't make it. Then they will have no choice but to give bad ratings no matter how good the teachers are.

A good supervisor could probably tell quickly who's doing a good job, and then move quickly to support teachers who need it. But in this system, that supervisor will have to focus on dozens of other teachers who don't need help before finding time for those who do. It will take Bill Gates ten years to figure out whether or not this system works. Too bad. A real teacher could size it up in ten minutes or less.
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