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Evaluation and the Beginning Teacher

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The following post is from Pennye Rogers, a 2014-2015 Hope Street Group Fellow who has been in education at the secondary level for 24 years. She currently teaches High School Physics, Anatomy/Physiology, Chemistry, and Biology while also serving as the Science Department Chair at Todd County Central High School in Elkton, Kentucky.

The Professional Growth and Effectiveness System (PGES) will be fully implemented across Kentucky in the fall of 2014. Many concerns raised by teachers and administrators throughout the past 2 years of piloting have lead to amendments to the process. One concern is that this system lends itself to much subjectivity, thus administrators must complete rigorous training and evaluation. When it comes to evaluating teachers, three areas seem to need more focus: the peer observation, the collegial conversation and the demonstration of the components of Domain 3: Instruction.

I have heard conversations that stated: "PGES is not good for new teachers." The explanation was that new teachers don't have the skills necessary to promote student growth, nor are they competent in the strategies to teach the content. But, it is my understanding that the peer observer is to encourage the observed teacher to reflect upon his/her teaching practices and guide them toward improvement. It is important to note that a single peer observation may not be enough in this situation. However, a new teacher would most likely have a mentor already through the KY Teacher Internship Program. I find it disturbing that new teachers who have the potential to become great teachers may be let go at an increased rate and blamed on PGES because he/she cannot score high enough on the evaluation scale! New teachers simply don't have the experience and confidence necessary to excel in all areas evaluated.

Another critical attribute of PGES is that evidence for evaluation comes from many areas. For example, if through the administrator's mini and formal observations, evidence of a particular component is not directly observed, the teacher can present that documentation during the required post-conference. This is true not only for new teachers but potentially, all teachers. In the past, administrators simply presented their evaluation to the observed teacher during the post-conference. The teacher then signed the form and left. There has not been a tradition of true collegial conversation and old habits are hard to break. New teachers, especially, may not feel comfortable 'correcting' the administrator. If they speak up, they may be seen as argumentative or even insubordinate; therefore, it is important that all teachers regularly reflect on and document their teaching experiences in order to provide evidence of teaching practice.

Finally, new teachers have little real classroom experience; therefore, they need guidance to succeed in the components of Instructional Practice. Knowing the content is just not enough. A teacher must learn through practice how to engage students in meaningful instructional strategies; how to assess the level of student learning; and how to manage a classroom. Unfortunately, most new teachers are given the classes that no one else wants--those that are vastly overcrowded and/or are full of students who have challenging behavioral or learning issues. Even if they have a KTIP mentor, these skills take time, perhaps years, to develop. Under PGES, it should not be a sink-or-swim situation. There must be building level and administrative supports to enhance effectiveness for all teachers in order to maximize student learning.

It has been said that "no man is an island;" well, no educator is an island either! Whether the educator is a teacher's aide, a classroom teacher, or an administrator, aren't we all on the same side? Don't we all work toward a common goal? Why is it that we have an 'us against them' hierarchy based on traditional roles of the past? We are on the same team and must focus on the common goals of academic success and college/career readiness for every Kentucky student. PGES could be an effective tool to improve education for all stakeholders. However, it can only be as effective as its administration and implementation in the schools. Let's support each other as we work toward our common goals to enhance the learning of and college and career readiness for all students. A good teacher is not born, but is nurtured and developed over time. Not everyone is cut out to be a teacher, but let's give them a fighting chance to try or we may find ourselves in a quandary: no one entering the teaching profession. PGES, requiring only 4 observations per year, is not limited to only those observations but involves differentiation so that if a new teachers need more support, they will get it. Their students deserve effective teachers. After all, it is the future of our profession, the future of the students of the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the future of our very nation that rides upon their success!

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