Teacher Evaluation, Teacher Coaching

When Teacher Evaluations Fail Teachers

I’ve been an English teacher for 23 years, so I’ve participated in numerous teacher evaluations. While some of these have encouraged growth and improvement, others have been what my students would call a “fail.” Educators today, like yourself, often voice frustration at their evaluation processes. I reached out to some other educators and explored their teacher evaluation experiences. A common pattern emerged from these experiences despite the varied approaches to the teacher evaluation process.

Sometimes, teacher evaluations fail teachers.

Below are some of the common pitfalls these educators shared with me regarding their teacher evaluation experiences:

Incorrect Perceptions or Just Checking Off the Boxes – One California educator described how his evaluator placed dots on a sheet of paper as the teacher interacted with students. When the evaluation was over, the evaluator pointed out a cluster of four dots missing; four students the teacher had not engaged in conversation. However, the educator had left the group alone on purpose. They were actively engaged in a rich discussion over the topic, and he didn’t want to interrupt the conversation. When he explained this to his evaluator, he was told, “Do it anyway.” Although this teacher understood the importance of interacting with his students, and his interaction with the other students in the room indicated that he was doing so, he wondered at the feedback. He knew if he inserted himself into the conversation, the students would’ve looked to him, the expert, for the answer. So, he chose to let them engage with the material instead creating a richer educational experience. He wondered why the dots were considered more important than observing quality peer collaboration.

Small Sample Size or Bad Timing – Sometimes, the frustration is that an evaluation is just one small snapshot of what a teacher does with his students. Picture this: a teacher has an evaluator who refuses to reschedule an observation when the class schedule that day has been abnormal. What if a student is struggling with a major life stressor, and the teacher deviates from the planned lesson to provide social/emotional support to the student? This situation probably occurs everyday in classrooms. Often, there is only one opportunity to impress, and the evaluator may only visit the last ten minutes of a class meaning timing is everything.  “In short, a lot of emphasis is placed on that one visit,” one teacher explained. What purpose could be served by a teacher evaluation process that accounts for so little of the daily happenings in the classroom?

No Immediate Communication or Feedback is Provided – Another teacher had the opposite experience, but he was equally frustrated. His administrators wore cardboard cameras around their neck for visits that were considered a brief walk through. The intention of the fake cameras was to eliminate the anxiety of a formal evaluation and to recognize, symbolically, the nature of the visit as a mere snapshot of what he does in the classroom. However, there was no feedback after the snapshot visit, no opportunity for reflective dialogue, and the cameras distracted the students. He wondered what the administrators were looking for and whether they had found it.

Lack of Consistency and Targeted Feedback – Other teachers also expressed frustration over a lack of helpful feedback on a more consistent schedule. A California teacher hadn’t been evaluated in five years, but her colleague in Florida had an evaluator in her room at least once a week. The Florida teacher receives a list of praises after each evaluation, but she is frustrated at the lack of targeted feedback to aid her professional growth.

The common pitfalls of teacher evaluations (listed above) and the related high stakes often frustrate teachers and their evaluators. The end result is a costly and time-intensive teacher evaluation process that fails both the teacher and the evaluator. Evaluators who avoid these common pitfalls can turn the evaluation process into an effective tool for professional growth and continuous improvement.

Do any of these common pitfalls sound familiar to you?  Would your teachers agree with some of these pain points shared by other teachers across the country? 

~Dawn Knight

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