District’s new policy: Be tougher on new teachers

Today, the superintendent of our district made an announcement that the district will now try harder to weed out ineffective new teachers before they become somewhat permanent (after two years).

As much as I want students to receive high quality instruction, I don’t agree with this new policy.

First of all, we’ve got to find a way to measure teacher quality comprehensively before we start trying to define who is a good teacher and who is bad. There are many ways for teachers to be good, many ways for them to be bad. For example, imagine you’ve got two teachers. Teacher A is extremely dedicated, talented, and knows her content material but refuses to “teach to the test” so her students don’t do as well as her colleague, Teacher B, who isn’t as creative, smart, or talented but instead gives students near exact replicas of test questions before the district’s assessment? If teachers are evaluated based on their students’ performance on a standardized assessment, doesn’t that seem unfair?

Second point: we’ve got to find more effective ways to help teachers develop before we think about getting rid of them. Putting aside this economic downturn, all the reports I’ve read point to a continuing shortage of qualified teachers in California over the next decade.

Final point: TEACHING IS SO INCREDIBLY HARD!!! I have been teaching at the university level for over 10 years and had jobs related to teaching math for 28 years and so far this one year of teaching high school has been so incredibly difficult. I feel so inadequate all the time. A veteran teacher told me that the second year is easier than the first, but it’s not until the fifth year or so that one really starts to feel good about his/her teaching. How can we expect new teachers to be effective in their first two years of service?

The district’s new policy will focus on new teachers that get a “Needs Improvement” on one or more criteria on their evaluations. The way things have been going for me this year, I would definitely be one of those teachers that gets a “Needs Improvement.”

2 thoughts on “District’s new policy: Be tougher on new teachers

  1. I like your take on this especially as a teacher who was criticized heavily in his first year and is now somewhat beloved by the same critics in his second year.

    My one issue with the teacher A teacher B scenario is this: If teacher A is doing a good job teaching (what ever subject) even if its not totally aligned to district and state tests shouldn’t his or her students do fairly well on such tests? I certainly understand what makes teacher B not good but I personally try to do both because I think they are not totally exclusive of one and other.

    Too many teachers in my district claim to be teacher A’s because in certain ways (with our current system) its hard to identify teacher A verse teacher C (who doesn’t teach to a test nor are they creative, dedicated or talented). Yet it is still almost impossible under the current evaluation system to truly categorize teachers as such because the systems that are in place can’t actually use this test data nor are they really based on student learning.

    Alas, love the blog, keep up the good noble work.

    • I completely agree with you that excellent teachers will find ways to get their students to learn and to perform well on any assessment without resorting to “teaching to the test.” I also think it’s a very easy thing for someone to claim that she/he is a Teacher A and not a Teacher B–it’s hard to know who is who. Before this semester, I believed that test scores would always reflect a teacher’s skill but now I have a more nuanced (or maybe jaded) view.

      Here’s an example: Our math department recently gave a common assessment. We’ve been instructed to use CPM for Algebra 1 at our school, but it seems like I and one other teacher are really the only ones who use it. The other teachers are not using CPM and their students are learning different topics than mine. (They’re getting through topics a lot faster.) Since we wrote the assessment together, the recent common assessment had questions about the slope of linear equations and my students have not seen this yet.

      I could have easily told my students: “We haven’t learned about slope yet, but here’s this test that you have to take. So when you see questions about slope, just memorize this formula and use it: (y2-y1)/(x2-x1).” I refuse to do that because I believe students will remember and understand a topic better if they have some context, meaning or intuition for something before they learn an algorithm or formula rather than after. Also, because the winter break was approaching, I really wanted my students to solidify their understand of what we’ve been learning–I didn’t want to get through something half way and then have to spend more time putting things back together again after the break.

      So was I being Teacher A or B in that situation? I don’t know. Maybe it would have been better for their confidence to get those questions right rather than let them get those questions wrong. (I told them those questions would be extra credit.) If I knew these test scores would affect my evaluation at this school, I might have done things differently. As it is, I don’t think our principal is using these assessments to evaluate us but she also receives scores from all of us–it’s natural to wonder whether she looks at these numbers and forms an impression of me based on my students’ test results. She doesn’t know about who is implementing CPM and who isn’t, she doesn’t know that I haven’t taught about slope yet and most everyone else has.

      What if I were really a beginning high school teacher at my first job? I have just been assigned to this school and told to use CPM for Algebra 1. The district isn’t supporting this curriculum so their assessments look different. All the other experienced teachers at my school know this and so they don’t really use CPM–they hand out the textbooks but don’t follow the curriculum. I’m green and I just follow instructions from my principal so I follow CPM faithfully and at the end of the year my students have lower scores than every other math teacher at my school. My principal doesn’t really understand what’s happened because she thinks everyone is implementing CPM as she has directed. What will happen to me if I get a “Needs Improvement” because of my students’ test scores? One would hope that if my students really understand algebra better that they will do a better job on the district assessment but, I am no longer convinced that this is always true. Will this new district policy will mean that my job will be in danger, even if my students actually understand algebra better?

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