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Evaluate This!

Everyone’s talking about the breakdown in the teacher evaluation talks between the mayor and the union as if it were the only chance to fix public education in New York City. Do we need an evaluation system? Absolutely. Is it a cure-all for our educational ills? Absolutely not.

I am still in the middle of my honeymoon period with teaching, the first career I’ve truly loved. Sadly, like so many teachers in our city, newbies such as myself and grizzled veterans alike, I am developing a profound sense of regret linked to the growing sensation that I may not be cut out for the classroom, or at least the New York City classroom. I rarely feel recognized for my work. I rarely feel effective in the classroom. I rarely feel like I’m giving my students what they will need to succeed in college and beyond.

Certain mayors, governors, members of Congress and leaders in education reform constantly denigrate teachers. In fact, there are times when I feel like that is the only topic of national interest where there is a degree of political consensus: Our students are failing and teachers are to blame.

Along with most teachers I know, I’m spending 12 to 15 hours every day teaching, planning lessons, grading papers, developing presentation slides, completing paperwork, enhancing my classroom environment and calling parents. Once you add in my meals and commute, there’s barely enough time to sleep!

And, new evaluation system or no, I’m being held accountable for everything I do. Nearly every email in my inbox is marked “high importance” and then followed up with countless check-ins. Danielson rubric “feedback loops” are happening every month. Administrators march through my room nearly every week. My student data binder is thoroughly reviewed by teachers, administrators, network consultants and our superintendent.

Every time I turn around, I’m being told “Good job, but …” And every time a change is suggested to me, I implement it. Not enough student work on the walls? Fixed! Student work hung too high? Lowered! Process for completing an assignment unclear? Posted!

But when teachers need help, we’re given sympathy without assistance. Sorry — there are no office supplies available, but you’re supposed to have color-coded charts, class sets of dry erase markers, an array of options for organizers and manipulatives, and even a variety of paper choices to allow for student agency in every assignment. Sorry — there are no aligned resources for the unit you’re teaching, but still you’re supposed to find content-aligned, leveled, authentic literature for every student in every subject. These items are presented to me as non-negotiables by the city and my administration. But what about teacher non-negotiables?

Isn’t it interesting that Common Core Learning Standards were introduced without aligned curricula? Isolated task bundles full of grammatical mistakes as part of a vast trove of online garbage that I’m supposed to wade through during my free time just don’t cut it. Isn’t it unfortunate that special education reform and SESIS have been launched without effective citywide training and data-based suggestions for implementation? Principal- and network-led professional development sessions on these topics reflect the fact that school leaders themselves don’t know what’s going on with special education in New York.

Isn’t it shameful that the people demanding Universal Design for Learning, scaffolding and differentiation, Danielson-aligned teaching practices and data-driven instruction could not offer any of these cutting-edge teaching techniques themselves? I’m absolutely sick of being told the importance of visual anchors at presentations without any visual anchors!

So is a new teacher evaluation system — one that helps teachers improve — important? Absolutely. But let’s not forget that without standards-aligned curricula, robust learning resources and a dramatic improvement in teacher morale, there may not be many teachers left to evaluate.


Mr. Thompson is the pseudonym of a fourth-year elementary school teacher in Brooklyn. A version of this post first appeared on the UFT blog Edwize.org, where “New Teacher Diaries” is a regular feature. If you’re interested in writing a New Teacher Diary entry for Edwize, send an email to edwize@uft.org.

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8 Comments:

  • 1 woodruffw1980
    · Feb 12, 2013 at 5:16 pm

    As a “Grizzled veteran” teacher I commend you on your ability to state the troubles of education so eloquently without getting discouraged. The fight is long, the fight is just, but the fight gets harder. Keep up the good fight.

  • 2 phyllis c murray
    · Feb 13, 2013 at 1:43 am

    “Today’s diverse population in public schools calls for a comprehensive assessment system that combines formal assessments (standardized tests) with informal, classroom -based assessment (portfolios, projects, performances and exams). This is the multifaceted approach necessary to equitably assess all students, including those with bilingual and special needs (Harris -Stefanakis, 1993, 1995, 1997).” Visit: http://www.americantowns.com/ny/bronx/news/where-is-the-merit-in-merit-pay-by-phyllis-c-murray-204778

  • 3 Veteranteach
    · Feb 19, 2013 at 6:39 pm

    There is no need to implement a new evaluation system. The reformers have won the debate by convincing the world that the current system does not work. Teachers can get feed back at any
    Time during the year. This entire debate was started by Michelle Rhee and her friends who want to use data to rate, and FIRE TEACHERS.

  • 4 John Scott Buchanan
    · Mar 6, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    The belief that a new evaluation system is necessay is a fallacy based upon the results of where the United States supposedly scores as compared internationally. It has been widely reported by so called ” educational reformers” that America’s students’ test results place them at about 14th in world ranking. This has led to the rallying cry that our education system is systematically failing and that there needs to be teacher evaluations based upon test scores. However, the fact that once the poverty levels of all the corresponding countries have been equally adjusted, it is not so well known that the United States students rank number one in the world in both reading and math results. Our students finish fifteen points higher than the next country, Finland,which has long been held as a model of efficiency. Of course, it would have proven rather difficult for a nationwide reform of education to occur if the public had known that the true culprit for our present world ranking is due to an increase in our nation’s poverty levels as opposed to a deficiency in our nation’s teacher’s ablities. Our voice as a union shouldn’t be one in agreement with those of the reformers vying for a piece of the 600 billion dollar business that public education has sadly become; a group salivating over the prospect of the dismissal of thousands of teachers, based upon an evaluation system that its own creator is steadfastfully opposed to being implementatedin its present form.Instead our voice must be heard refuting the false notion, that it is anthing but insepid poverty which needs to be addressed.

  • 5 JHS Teacher
    · Mar 17, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    What do I do when a student does not hold up their end of the education contract by not doing the work that I assign? What does Charlotte Danielson say about that?

  • 6 Arrow
    · Mar 23, 2013 at 4:52 am

    I joined the UFT in 1964 and retired in 1995. Many of the issues on the table today are precisely those explaiend to us by our mentors as affecting NYC public school teachers during the 1930′s depression and 1940′s world war years. My case may be iconic in this regard. After teaching for nearly thirty years, my new department Assistant Principal began hazing me and writing me up as unsatisfacgtory, for merely still needing medical prescription to inject insulin on campus until, in the process of storming classroom more than eighty times in two months, he or she inadvertently harrassed a student who was a niece or nephew of the sitting, incumbent President of the United Federation of Teachers,

  • 7 Robert Brady
    · Apr 18, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    Principals throughout the city are telling teachers that they will rate us on the new evaluation system starting in June. What are we doing to fight it?

  • 8 Jill
    · Apr 24, 2013 at 9:30 pm

    Hang in there. Talk to your colleagues. I am sure they are feeling as overwhelmed as you. I know you are doing your very best. Teachers need to to support each other. I have been in the system for 24 years and have felt exactly like you do.