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I am that person who enjoys the app Timehop and On This Day on Facebook where it gathers pictures, quotes, or status from the past. This morning reminded me of one of my most dramatic mornings as a teacher.
So I slept through my alarm this morning. The cat awakens me screaming to be let in. I have 30 minutes to get ready. I have my formal evaluation first class of the day. #needmoresleep #needmorecoffee
Coffee, the essential elixir that makes me more human in the morning. I remember needing gallons of it this particular day which apparently continued on its downward spiral into sitcom status because my Facebook memories also were kind enough to remind me that my sweater had been on inside out and backward ALL DAY as well! At least my principal showed mercy and did not mercilessly 'rib' me about it. Come to think about it, where were my people, my tribe of teachers at? Despite the discombobulated state, I found myself in, I managed to do well on the evaluation because I am not that teacher who constructs a proverbial dog and pony show for a one-time appearance of the administrator to impress them. I try to teach my best every day - with as much coffee as possible.
Principals, if you want to see what your teacher really teaches like behind closed doors, do random walk-throughs unannounced, especially if you suspect authentic teaching is not occurring. Any evaluator worth their salt can tell the difference anyway. Look at the student’s faces. If they register a perplexed look, you might have a one-time occurrence of an awesome session from their teacher. Except in today’s pandemic state of pandemonium, everyone has that expression I’m sure.
Twas the Night Before --
How many of us have lost sleep the night before our yearly evaluations? I have for sure even though I have a cup of Sleepytime Tea before I head off to bed. Yet, I know very well what can go wrong, will go wrong. Technology failures have occurred a few times causing me to “modify and adjust” on the fly. I’ve had a student throw up in the middle of the lesson while sitting next to the principal. The man did keep leaning over “whispering” questions to my students instead of allowing them to participate in the lesson. One student did have the gumption to say “I’m sorry, I need to focus on what she’s teaching now.” The worst interruption during an evaluation occurred when a male student and one poor little girl class mimicked humping the desk in the middle of the lesson just to see what I’d do. Good times for sure.
Another piece of the yearly evaluations, at least here in Texas, is the “rubric” we are measured by. We are always reassured that Proficient is A+ teaching. If I had not resigned before our school year began, this would be my year to be evaluated as I was on the 3-year plan. I cannot even imagine how crazy prepping for this one-time event during a freaking pandemic would turn out. Once again, evaluating teachers during a pandemic just seems completely ridiculous.
Show compassion. Teachers are experiencing more stress than they ever hope to experience in their lifetime. This is why I do not believe you need to add this one day torture to their plate that is teetering upon collapse. Spend time with them checking on their health, especially their mental health. Your teachers are only human and many have experienced stressors and grief outside your building. The idea that we’ve been taught by well-meaning teachers during our methods classes and such of not letting your outside life affect the classroom went out the door in 2020 when many of us did video lessons literally from the kitchen table, backyard, living room, or wherever we could find in our homes. In turn, so have our students. They are dealing with all kinds of stresses more than the norm. Teacher burnout is at an all-time high right now. Do not be the evaluator who adds more water to totally snuff out the dwindling flame. Once again, evaluating teachers during a pandemic just seems completely ridiculous.
Extend grace - Teachers are unfamiliar with the various platforms administrators are asking them to be masters of when they are being evaluated. Make sure they have received the proper training to actually use these platforms before expecting them to be wizards. It will ease their stress level tremendously. When something on the platform does not function properly and trust me on observation day it will happen, do not deduct a massive amount of points. Last Spring, I had a parent racing through the room in the background in just a towel during a Google Meet session with the class. Things happen. Several articles of late point out that many districts across the nation are doing very informal observations and formative evaluations because nearly every teacher right now feels like a first-year teacher all over again. Once again, evaluating teachers during a pandemic just seems completely ridiculous.
Think outside the box or screen. Here’s an idea. Since some districts are using remote platforms right now, why not hop into the platform every so often and spend a few hours being a fly on the wall. Be invited to their Google Classroom as a fellow teacher and observe lessons being presented there, especially if the discussion is occurring there. I love it when an administrator randomly pops into my room during a class debate or lively discussion. They always think they can sit back and quietly observe until I pull them into the discussion by throwing them a question to respond to. It always lets students see them in a different light, as humans who can think and respond and not just dole our punishments. At least once a year, I also invite my administrators to come to do a read aloud to my students. One book I absolutely love for them to read is B. J. Novak’s Book With No Pictures. I purposefully had one of our principals read this to my 7th graders because it is a hoot and allowed my students to see her as a person who is fun too. You could very easily offer to do something like this for your teachers during a Zoom meeting or Google Meet. Students of all ages would enjoy this - trust me.
Go Above and Beyond
If your teachers are working from home, be that administrator who goes above and beyond and maybe do a porch drop off of a care package letting your teachers know you support them. Teachers are leaving this profession by the droves. Shouldn’t you do everything in your power to keep them? Maybe your “yearly evaluation” needs to be more towards serving your staff as I mentioned above during this difficult time instead of judging them. We are all doing the best we can dare I say hovering around the dreaded Proficient level of teaching. Be the evaluator/administrator who serves their staff at the Distinguished level of proficiency. It would make a world of difference.