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Evaluating Teachers Who Are “Building the Plane While They Fly It”

Teachers are already feeling drained.

Never before have we entered into a year of teaching so unprepared. This, despite hours of PD at best and sleepless nights pondering solutions at worst. We weren’t sure until the first students logged in virtually or showed up to our in-person hybrid classes what it would be like to live stream, teach kids how to unmute themselves, or take attendance with unstable technology. For some teachers, the thought of a principal evaluating them is almost laughable as they struggle with other challenges. Nationwide, admins, teachers, and lawmakers now weigh the pros and cons as they endure the challenge of day to day life as an educator in 2020. Let’s look at ways teacher evaluations might work in the land of COVID-19.

Observations without “counting” the rating

Some admins have decided that they will still evaluate teachers by being “in” the classroom. However, they have stated these ratings won’t count for or against the trajectory of the teacher’s career. One Illinois principal, who follows the Danielson framework, says they have received new guidance on evaluating remote or online teachers. The evaluation company suggests admins use virtual learning walks to determine:

  • what practices support an organized virtual classroom space
  • how the teacher is supporting students socially and emotionally
  • how student participation is being encouraged

This principal, and others using the model, will engage in observations and give feedback to teachers. But, she says there is “too much stress to base student achievement in evaluations from whether or not parents are supporting learning at home.” Her acknowledgment that virtual learning sometimes isn’t a level playing field is a relief to some teachers who don’t want the perceived extra judgment.

Another admin in this same situation said that the focus should be on encouraging teachers through positive feedback and focusing on what is working. A principal in New Mexico adds that they also will be withholding summative evaluations as they “take Danielson for a test drive” this year.

Evaluations conducted as usual

In some districts, admins will be conducting full evaluations as normal. Unfortunately, teachers are feeling the stress. One teacher says, “Frankly, I’m not happy about it…I feel like it’s just one more thing added to our plate on top of our workload being basically tripled in a remote setting. I can see its benefits obviously, as we all want to grow as educators, but I also just feel like it’s hard to get a decent observation in over a computer screen.”

Some teachers feel a sense of understanding and a lack of judgment from their administrators. Especially ones they’ve worked well with for many years. For others, the potential additional set of eyes is too much when they are already feeling insecure about the process. One worried teacher posted on the WeAreTeachers HELPLINE Facebook group : “…it feels like I’m not doing anything well with having to teach face to face and remote kids at the same time.”

Evaluations linked to test scores

Many teachers have expressed concern at the idea of being evaluated on their test scores. They feel they cannot be held to the same standards as previous years due to inequities in learning environments during virtual learning. 30-year education expert and nationwide conference presenter Patty Duncan (currently advising for Vooks reading programs), works with teachers and admins across the country battling the “how to evaluate this year” question. She explains that while teachers are used to being evaluated, they are actually their most difficult critic. The new situation also creates more “intense” emotions as teachers already feel drained.

Duncan is concerned about the connection to test scores. “Those must change,” she says. Education experts have already started examining the depths of the COVID-19 learning losses from the spring, which most agree shouldn’t be reflected on a teacher’s ability. “Let’s work to make evaluations opportunities for growth. This is a change that was necessary before the pandemic and now we have an opportunity to do just that.” If standardized testing is on hold, evaluations based on it may need to be too.

Mixed teacher reactions

What if you need an evaluation to achieve the tenure status you’ve waited for? What if you need an evaluation to be removed from a probationary period over the last few years? For some teachers, evaluations are necessary to further their careers. A delay would mean they are in the same position as last year, possibly completing probationary tasks or wondering if their career is safe while they wait to achieve tenure.

On the other hand, some teachers feel the evaluations are linked to a platform they’ve never used before. One 24-year veteran teacher, who will have three formal live Zoom observations and informal drop-ins says, “I think it’s ridiculous! I wasn’t trained to teach online…Why observe this year?”

Another teacher posts on the Facebook group: “No big deal. Observations make me better. And most admins should be extremely understanding of the differences. But I am still teaching. My kids are still learning. I love constructive criticism.”

What do you feel about teacher evaluations during COVID-19? Share in the dialogue on our Principal Life Facebook group.

Plus, It’s Not Just Where You Are, Teachers are Quitting all Over the Country.

Evaluating Teachers Who Are “Building the Plane While They Fly It”

Posted by Alexandra Frost

Alex is a freelance journalist and high school publications teacher in Cincinnati, OH. She has three young sons under age four and has been teaching high school for ten years. She encourages her students to develop communication skills, independence, and a passion for writing in their authentic writers' voices.

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