Saturday, September 28, 2013

What Would Make Me Feel "Highly Effective" | September 13, 2013

Seth Furlow

I would feel most accomplished as an educator if students could...

The last few years my district has been rolling out a new evaluation system like most other districts in Michigan.  I find little value in this system.  Honestly, it's a series of hoops to jump through, boxes to check off, and if all done appropriately I will be deemed "highly effective", or "effective" and hopefully not "minimally effective" or "ineffective".  It's a scam.  For whatever reason our state officials feel as this is the best way to reform our allegedly failing public schools (a myth by the way, which you can read here.) I really don't know if our administrators truly believe this is an effective system or if they are just following the rules too, but there has been nothing about these evaluations that has allowed me to become a better teacher, not one thing.  I'm not saying this out of spite or bitterness because I have been rated lower than I would have liked, because I haven't.  My ratings have been very good, but does it matter?  What would make me feel most accomplished as an educator?  It's not an evaluation, that's for sure.

The first day of my chemistry classes each year I usually share with my students that I won't be offended if they come back a year from that day and cannot recite some specific, arbitrary fact about chemistry that they got correct on a test at one point in time.  The content to me, is not important at this level.  We spend a lot of time talking about how to learn, what makes a good learner, and how that will carry into their daily lives;  these are things I feel will benefit them much more in the future, moreso than knowing that the fluoride 1- ion has 9 protons and 10 electrons (an actual content expectation in Michigan for chemistry)!  When I think back to the teachers and coaches I remember the most, there is not one piece of content that sticks out to me to explain why I feel they had an impact on my life.  It was the questions they had for me about my soccer game the night before, the concern they had when they heard I had gotten into a bit of a scuffle with a fellow classmate, the personal stories they shared about growing up themselves and lessons they had learned along the way.  In short, it was the relationships that mattered to me.

Content is in some ways obviously important.  There are certain things a well-educated productive citizen should be exposed to.  Assessing students on these items has its place too.  Can you learn difficult concepts?  Can you articulate this knowledge in writing or other effective forms of communication?  The value of the assessment though does not equal the value of the education.  What values and interests students take with them into their own adult lives is what matters most.  Any chance a new teacher evaluation system will reflect that?  Yeah, I didn't think so.