By Andrew Hawk
The process for evaluating teachers has greatly changed in the last generation. Teachers today live in the age of accountability. My school system uses a rigorous evaluation method encompassing observations, student performance, teacher goals, and artifacts that teachers upload to a computer system for their principals to review. In Indiana, where I teach, teachers’ pay increases for the next school year are tied to their performance on their evaluation. Teachers who score poorly also have to write a detailed plan of improvement.
Evaluations can be very stressful for new and experienced teachers. All teachers can reflect on past lessons and find a few they would not have wanted their principal to observe. Here are some tips that may make your life easier as you prepare for your next evaluation.
Does your school system use a rubric? Is your evaluation a simple checklist? You should be provided a copy of the district expectations during your new teacher orientation. If not, someone in your school’s office should be able to give you a copy. Just as you would review a syllabus at the beginning of a semester, review the district’s expectations and how you will be assessed. While you are doing this, start forming a plan for how you can meet, or better yet exceed, expectations throughout the course of the school year.
Have a Discussion with Your Principal
The evaluation process at all four schools where I have taught left a great deal of discretion to the principal who was performing the evaluation. Therefore, it is a good idea to have a discussion with your principal about her interpretation of the evaluation process. No matter how good your school system is at training principals to fairly evaluate teachers, every principal is a little different.
Make Data-Based Decisions
Data-based instruction is more than a popular buzz term. Whoever your evaluator is, chances are good that this person will be interested in knowing how you reach your instructional decisions. Use a variety of assessments to gain a clear picture of your students’ needs, and adjust your instructional practices based on those needs. Keep notes on adjustments you make so you can discuss them with your evaluator.
Perform Well All the Time
If your principal lets you schedule your observation, consider yourself lucky. There is no doubt that you will spend extra time planning a special lesson that showcases your talents as an instructor. While this may be the formal observation that your instructor scores for your evaluation, you need to understand that you are being evaluated on some level every time your administrator encounters you. If you are using the same teaching strategies every time she pops into your classroom, she will notice. If your students are misbehaving every time he sees your class walking in line in the hallway, he will notice. It is great to try extra hard on your formal observations. We all do it. However, performing well all the time should be your goal.
Prepare Your Students
By “prepare,” I in no way mean bribing your students to behave. Your classroom management should speak for itself. However, if you do not brief your students ahead of time, one of them is sure to blurt out, “Why is she here?” when your principal walks into the room. It may be a matter of preference, but I like it better when students ignore the evaluator’s presence. I usually tell my students that the principal will be stopping by to see how well our class operates and to continue with whatever we are doing as if no one else is in the room.
Volunteer for Extra Duties
The truth is, you should be doing this anyway. All of us should be going the extra mile to make sure our schools run smoothly. Teaching is not a profession for people who want to perform the minimum duties outlined in their job descriptions. The first school where I taught full time actually included a section on our evaluation rubric that scored whether we attended school functions or volunteered for extra duties. I am not saying you have to head up every food drive or sponsor all your school’s extracurricular activities, but do something. Pick a project that you can enjoy and run with it. Bosses in general appreciate when employees work hard to improve the workplace. Principals are no different.
Ask for a Peer Review
Reach out to a colleague for a peer review. Choose someone you can trust to give you feedback that is both honest and constructive. Arrange for this person to observe you teaching, and listen to the feedback. If you have to submit artifacts as part of your evaluation, ask this person’s advice on the relevance of your choices.
Build Your Confidence
My dad loves baseball. He pitched for his high school team. His senior year, his team won the state championship. Dad has always told me that pitching is mostly about confidence. The same is true in teaching. How can you build your confidence? Of course, that answer will vary from teacher to teacher. In general, take out your degrees and look at them. Find your teaching license and look at it. Go get the scores from the state licensing tests you passed and remember how well you performed. You must have passed, right? Many people stumble on their way to becoming a teacher. I watched two friends give up during our student teaching semester. You did not become a teacher on accident; the process is too long and too arduous. A principal believed in you enough to hire you. Doing well on your evaluation should be no problem!
Andrew Hawk has worked in public education for 16 years, starting as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher, and for the past five years, has worked as a resource room teacher, providing services for fourth and fifth graders. Working as a special education teacher has given him the opportunity to work with a variety of age groups and exceptionalities. Andrew earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University, and in 2016, he completed a second master’s degree in educational leadership, also from WGU. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter.
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