About Katie Sluiter

Katie Sluiter is currently an 8th English teacher in West Michigan. She has taught middle school, high school, and community college and has her Masters Degree and is currently working on her doctoral degree in Teaching English. Her writing has been featured on Writers Who Care, The Nerdy Book Club, and Dr. Bickmore's YA Wednesday. She is a member of the National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE), the Michigan Council of Teachers of English (MCTE) and ALAN (the Assembly on Literature of Adolescents of the NCTE). She is a National Writing Project participant, has presented at both state and national conferences, and has been published in the Language Arts Journal of Michigan multiple times.

How is a teacher’s worth measured?

Is it based on how many years an educator has in the field? The state of Michigan decided the answer to that question was “no” when it prohibited schools from making cuts based on seniority. Personally, this was a relief to me.  For the past ten years, our district has had to make cuts due to the state slashing per-pupil funding among other public school monies. Because I was at the bottom of the seniority list, I was on the list each and every time–not because I was a bad teacher, but because there were more people with my same certifications above me than below me on a list.

Now we are judged by an evaluation system. As I said, at first this was a relief to me. However, we are now in the fourth year of this system and I’m not sold on this system either.

Teachers are currently reduced to “effective” or “ineffective” based on student grades, whether or not we have objectives posted in our classroom, and how we handle classroom management. I’m not really worried about how this will pan out for me, but it does make me think about what has been taken out of consideration when teachers are evaluated. What has been deemed as most important in the those who are trusted to educate our children.

Just before Thanksgiving break, the unimaginable happened in our school–one of our teachers died. It was sudden and very much unexpected. She was only 39 and had been in our district for fifteen years. Her name was Abbey.

Her funeral was practically standing room only. She impacted countless lives in her time as an educator and it showed in the faces of students–past and present–filling the pews in the large sanctuary. The stories about her as a basketball coach and mentor went on and on: how she went to 7:00 am mass every Sunday and then went into school for hours after; how she bought her entire basketball team shirts and ties so they would look sharp for away games; her habit of becoming a secret Santa before winter break, putting backpacks and tennis shoes and coats anonymously in student lockers for those most in need.

Click To TweetI don’t know what Abbey’s evaluations looked like. I don’t know how many students passed her science classes or how many failed. I also don’t know if she posted her lesson objectives or always had a bell activity. I do know that she was far more than just “effective.”

I don’t know what Abbey’s evaluations looked like. I don’t know how many students passed her science classes or how many failed. I also don’t know if she posted her lesson objectives or always had a bell activity. I do know that she was far more than just “effective.”

I don’t know what Abbey’s evaluations looked like. I don’t know how many students passed her science classes or how many failed. I also don’t know if she posted her lesson objectives or always had a bell activity. I do know that she was far more than just “effective.”

My eighth grade ELA students are currently writing tribute essays and many, many students have chosen to write about Abbey. None of them write about her excellent objectives, but they do write about the time she spent getting to know each of them, and how she made them feel seen and heard. Many of her former basketball players write about how she pushed them not just to be better on the court,  but  to be better students and citizens. According to them, you didn’t play for her if you were lacking in your academics or behavior. You didn’t touch the court.

Abbey had big expectations and an even bigger heart for her students and players.

The teacher evaluation process in Michigan has been updated yet again this year. We spent a bit of time as a staff going over some of the new weights for the areas we in which would be evaluated (for example 25% of our evaluation rests on “student achievement”). Since Abbey has been gone, I have had a hard time caring much about these evaluations.

Of course I want my students to be successful, but if I don’t get to a “closing activity” because my class got caught up in reading or discussion, does that make me partially “ineffective”? If my doing individual conferencing with students isn’t a direct representation of something in the Common Core am I going to get marked down?

Knowing my administrators, no. They know how to recognize relationships and the good things we are doing. But what about in other districts and other administrators?

Objectives and standards are important, but so are personal relationships with kids and their families. Why is there no check box for that? Why is there no input other than what a random administrator sees when he/she is in your class four times out of the whole year?

What if we were all evaluated on what students would say at our funeral?

I don’t have answers to these questions, but I do wonder frequently what my worth is as a teacher. Is it an evaluation score or is it something more?

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