Getting Around

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Making an IMPACT

Recently, a report came out on the IMPACT teacher evaluation system used in Washington, D.C. schools the last two years. This was one of Michelle Rhee's big reforms, and there were many complaints about it. While from the report it's clear that IMPACT has some adjustments to make, I'm hoping the districts near me are watching.

My original career was in business. I did programming and workflow consulting. My evaluations were always related to the bottom line, and many of them included input from coworkers and clients as well as my boss. I got frequent, specific feedback throughout the year on my performance and how I could improve. If I needed training, I was sent to training. My job was only moderately stressful. I enjoyed the challenge, but I did have several colleagues who found the constant feedback depressing and quit because of it.

I find feedback in the education world a bit lacking, to be honest. Everyone tells you the first few years are hard. Teachers are messing with the learning of many, many children over their careers. Isn't some honest evaluation and support in the form of training (or even internships) worth it? Teachers who don't get support don't stick around, and since we're all supposed to believe it takes 10,000 hours to master something, that means a lot of people are leaving before they get good.

In my state there is a mentorship program, but your mentor doesn't even have to work in the same building as you do. Several teachers have told me they only communicated with their mentors over e-mail and that their mentors never got to see them teach because they were in a school across town. Mentors have their own classes to teach, after all, and apparently they don't get time to go see the person they're supposed to be mentoring. I want a mentor who can come see me and give me specific feedback on how to improve.

As for IMPACT, the biggest problem I see with it is that it doesn't account for teacher collaboration, another thing I find lacking in education. In the district I hope to teach in, students might see a different teacher for reading than they do for math. But value-added measures being used right now in other areas of the country assume that the teacher you start with in the morning is the one who teaches you everything, at least at the elementary level. That's got to be addressed, particularly if we want to encourage collaboration (and we do!). Right now it also means that the special education teachers aren't getting any credit for the hard work they do, which is not only unfair but unmotivating.

Yes, I do want my students' learning to show up on my evaluation, along with several other measures. I want many observations for as long a time as possible, and I want my development to be linked to those observations so I can target the areas where I need the most work. I'd also like my coworkers to have a chance to give me feedback, and I wouldn't mind the students getting a chance too provided that they are asked appropriate questions.

Once IMPACT is tweaked I hope other districts start looking at D.C.'s struggles and successes. I don't want my job to be based on whether my principal likes me but on whether or not I'm an effective teacher.

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