The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

You Can’t Quantify Kids or Teachers

on November 13, 2015

Although I have been determined to post today’s essay for a long time, I have also been nervous about how pompous it may sound to many readers.  What has moved me to take the risk is the continuing idiocy of evaluating teachers on students’ test scores, evenwhen they didn’t actually teach some of those students.  To me the basic principle of teacher evaluation today is utterly without validity because it is not possible for one person to control the behavior of another unless the first person is a master and the second is a slave.  Even that doesn’t work all the time.

Most of us, I think, can name the qualities that go into being a good cook, a good friend, or a good driver. But could we convert those qualities into quantities?  Would each quality have the same weight? And what if our two best friends had different qualities, that when tallied up showed a wide discrepancy?  What if one friend added up to a 95 and the other added up to 63?

All of this must seem hopelessly complicated and, very likely, inane. Who would want to measure one friend against another? But that is exactly the inanity going on in states and school districts bent on measuring the quality of students on their test scores.  Even worse than that is the practice of judging the quality of teachers by their students’ test scores so one teacher can be labeled “effective” and another “failing.”

To make matters worse, the people setting up the measurement formulas don’t seem to know what the qualities of a good teacher are. Most of them can name only the ability to generate high student test scores, while the rest go blank after adding the ability to manage classroom behavior.

Although I can’t resolve the numbers dilemma, I can, from my own  experience as a teacher and a principal, name a set of qualities that reflect my beliefs about teacher quality, and I want to do that here.  To me the most important one is the ability to inspire students to delve more deeply into the things taught in class, whether that is math, writing, science, or civility.

To help you get a fuller picture of my concept of teaching excellence, below is a list of  teacher qualities that I believe are important. They are what I looked for in my teachers when I was a principal.  Be warned, however, that they were never a “rubric” for me and should not be one for today’s principals or other evaluators.  They are ideals that very few of us can live up to all the time, the “A plusses” of performance.  And even if some teachers could do them all, every day over the years, an evaluator might not recognize them or give them the same value I do.

A good teacher

1.  Is aware, if the class size is reasonable, of each student’s academic strengths and weaknesses and home or community problems

2. Establishes a system of small group and independent learning that allows students to experience the roles of leader, follower, partner, and innovator

3. Plans lessons designed to cover the range of students’ instructional needs, connect to their interests, and strengthen their current knowledge and skills or move them into new territory

4. Adjusts lessons while teaching in response to students’ questions and actions

5. Makes an effort to include positive suggestions for improvement when critiquing student work

6. Demonstrates respect and trust for students and expects them to give the same back to her/him and their classmates

7. Discusses problems with behavior, attendance, or classwork with students privately, out of respect for their rights and dignity.

8. Develops professional relationships with fellow teachers inside the school or with teachers elsewhere

9. Develops good communication and partnership relationships with parents to serve the best interests of students

10. Continually works to improve and expand one’s own professional knowledge and skills.

Although I suspect that my list is still incomplete, it is long enough to convey my concept of good teaching and make clear why it can’t be measured or even perceived by evaluators who don’t know a teacher’s work firsthand through many classroom visits and observations of outside the classroom actions.

In any school the ideal evaluator is a good principal who has the time to visit classrooms regularly and observe teachers informally in many different situations.  As a result of  those efforts a good principal knows which teachers to move into positions of greater responsibility, which ones need help to improve, and those few who  are not suited to continue in this important profession.

I am well aware that throughout this essay I have been speaking of ideals, not reality.  Neither I or the teachers I supervised met all those ideals all the time.  But we tried, and we recognized many of our own weaknesses as individuals and as a group.  We did our best to respect, support, and forgive each other, knowing that– like our students– we were still learners.

One response to “You Can’t Quantify Kids or Teachers

  1. Steve Buel says:

    A pretty good list, Joanne. What you have said gets right to the heart of the difficulty in measuring education in general. There are tons of teaching attributes which can’t be measured that are important including love for teaching, caring about your students, personality when you teach, analysis of each student and on and on and on.


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