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Context Matters


Michael Moran
Over the past few years, the fists of coercive evaluation have beaten down the integrity of the teaching profession. Rhetoric that promotes teaching as a noble career choice is contradicted by evaluations that impose fear, threaten livelihoods, and essentially work to de-professionalize the job. We need look no further than the recent widespread cheating scandal in Atlanta to recognize that using evaluation as an intimidator will not work.


That said, evaluation is important and, when implemented correctly, has the potential to truly transform teacher effectiveness and enable teaching professionals to help close academic achievement gaps between students. As it stands, however, most teacher evaluations neglect to take into consideration the specific context in which teachers actually work. Many teachers are evaluated on subjects they do not even teach, uniform standards that are not always applicable, and fleeting observations that try to project the performance of a few hours onto an entire academic year.

So, what should teacher evaluations look like? They should look like the teacher. They should look like the students and the classroom in which those students learn. Teacher evaluations should look like the grade level, content area, and community the teacher teaches. They should look like the goals that teachers, students, and administrators set for themselves, their classes, and the school as a whole.

The point I'm trying to make here is that a lot of the evidence that indicates teacher effectiveness is dependent on context. Sure, great teachers are great leaders, and great leaders can lead anywhere, but you run into a problem when an art teacher is evaluated on the standardized test results of one grade level in mathematics. Evaluations need to be multifaceted, taking into consideration not only student performance on standardized tests, but the academic growth of students as demonstrated by a portfolio of artifacts, the relationships that teachers build with students and their parents as demonstrated by student and family evaluative surveys, and observations from not only administrators, but peers and master teachers.

Taking context into consideration when evaluating teachers should not be seen as a crutch. Rather, it should be seen as a pedestal for heightening the issues that matter most to a teacher, his students, and the school. In the end, by tailoring evaluation, and thus treating teachers more like professionals, we can show teachers that we trust them and that evaluative tools are meant to help, not hinder, their effectiveness.

Michael Moran is a former 6th grade teacher currently pursuing a Master of Public Administration degree at the University of Washington's Evans School of Public Affairs.

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