Talking Teaching

April 25, 2015

how do we assess teaching quality?

Way back when I was a secondary teacher, & there were signs that the government of the day was looking at a possible move to performance pay, there were fairly frequent staffroom discussions discussions around how to assess the quality of one’s teaching. (There’s a much more recent report on this subject here.) One metric proposed was how many of your students passed School Cert. (I told you it was a long time ago!) That was all very well for those whose classes – we had streamed classes at my school – contained students who could mostly be expected to achieve rather well. I had one of those, but I also had the ‘problem’ 4th-form (year 10) class: kids who for a variety of reasons weren’t viewed by many as likely to pass.

I had no problems with that class. I had to teach them science, and so we ‘did’ science in contexts that they found engaging & relevant: the science of cooking, the science of cosmetics, & so on. We had a ball, & in the process they seemed to absorb some knowledge of science: what it was, & how it worked. But mostly they still didn’t attempt School C (the equivalent of today’s NCEA Level 1), & so by that rubric I’d have been judged a poor teacher. Perhaps, if we’d looked systematically at the level of prior knowledge those students entered my class with, and assessed the gains they made on that, both they and I would have been judged differently.

I was reminded of this during a discussion today about assessing the quality of teachers in a university setting. Now sure, we have a system of paper appraisals and teaching appraisals. But they aren’t shared with line managers as a matter of course, and so that can make things difficult during goal-setting and promotion rounds. For in the absence of that information, just how do line managers (& others) come to any evidence-based assessmentof a teacher’s abilities and performance in the classroom? I suspect the short answer is that they can’t, not really.

But even where the appraisal data are available, they shouldn’t be the only tool individuals (& managers) use to assess performance. I’m often told the appraisals are easy to ‘game’, although I’m not sure how correct that is; it does tend to assume that students aren’t able to assess papers and teacher performance reasonably well. I mean, statements like “this teacher made it clear what was expected of
me”, “this teacher made the subject interesting”, and “this teacher was approachable when advice or
help was required” are fairly objective, after all. But ideally they’d be just one element in an educator’s portfolio.

That portfolio could also include notes and commentary from an option that teachers in the compulsory sector will be used to: having a colleague sit in on a class and provide constructive feedback afterwards. In my experience this is rare in universities, which is a real pity, because both parties can learn a good deal from the experience. (We are accustomed, and encouraged, to have others cast a critical eye on our research outcomes, so why not our teaching?)

It could also include notes & reflections from the education literature. I firmly believe that while my teaching has to be informed by current research in my discipline (& I simply can’t imagine teaching the same thing, year after year!), it must also be informed by findings from research into pedagogy.  Things change, after all. Teaching & learning methods that might have seemed to work for those who taught me at uni are almost certainly out of date in today’s classrooms. As regular readers will know, I put much of my own reflection into writing these blog posts: the blog makes up a largish part of my own portfolio.

And of course, if you’re dipping into the literature, and attending seminars or workshops from your equivalent of our Teaching Development Unit, then you’ll pick up all sorts of other, informal, tips for gaining feedback on how things are going in the classroom. It’s worth linking back to a guest post from a my friend & colleague Brydget, as she summarises all this very well.

The trick, of course, is to work out how to present that information to one’s line manager :)

May 21, 2012

how much do we value our teachers?

Filed under: education — Tags: , , , — alison @ 9:41 pm

Here in New Zealand I find that topics related to education (its quality, delivery, cost & so on) are never far from the headlines. So I’ve been following the various media reports on class sizes and performance pay for teachers with considerable interest. This afternoon I was sent a link to an article in the National Business Review – the article itself was quite… interesting (surely the number of teachers in this country hasn’t increased from 10-11,000 to 52,500 over the last decade? Why didn’t the reporter question that statement?), but it’s something in the comments thread that I’d like to address here.  ‘Anonymous’ remarked that

Police should get a lot more pay than teachers. They put their lives on the line every day , they have to deal with some of the worst members of our society on a daily basis , they work 8 fullon hours each day and usually 10 hours(with no extra pay) unlike teachers who have plenty of free time , they work shift work which is very disruptive to family life and they only get the 20 days holiday each year that most workers get . Compared to those in the police,school teachers have the good life believe me…..

I agree, members of our police force do all of this & earn every cent of their salaries. But I can’t agree with the implication that teachers, & the job teachers do, are somehow less valuable to society. Just how much value do we place, should we place, on those people society expects to prepare our young people for the increasingly complex demands of the world beyond school?

We need to remember, too, that in some cases teachers’ lives are also on the line.

And I must strongly disagree with the statement that teachers get ‘plenty of free time’. I’ve worked with an awful lot of dedicated, highly skilled teachers over the years since I moved back to university from my own secondary school classroom, and both my experiences & theirs belie that ‘free time’ statement. Teachers spend around 5 hours a day actually in the classroom, with up to 30+ students at a time (with the possibility of more, under the changes recently flagged by the Ministry). Typically there are meetings before & after school, & grounds duty on a rostered basis – and let’s not forget that a teacher doesn’t ‘just’ teach in a particular subject area but spends time on things like pastoral care as well.

The extra-curricular activities that add so much richness to students’ school experiences wouldn’t be possible if teachers didn’t offer their services in lunch breaks, after school, in weekends & holidays: something for which they don’t get extra pay, either, and which – from personal experience – can also be very disruptive to family life. (The NZ International Biology Olympiad teams, for example, owe their considerable success to the fact that classroom teachers give up evenings, weekends & holidays to coach, assess & mentor them.) And then there’s the marking, lesson-planning, report-writing, keeping up with all the other paperwork, parent-teacher interviews, all of which chews into the evenings & weekends, & those on-the-face-of-it generous ‘holidays’ as well.

Free time on a daily basis? I don’t think so.

November 27, 2010

Can negative stereotypes in learning be overcome?

This is a short one.

I just came across this post by Ed Yong in his blog ‘Not Exactly Rocket Science’ over at the Discover site. Ed is a great writer (one of my favourite science writers out there), and this post is so well written that y’all might as well head that way.

Still, I thought it might bring up some interesting conversation.

The WordPress Classic Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 191 other followers