It seems like everyone and their brother is writing about teacher effectiveness these days. “What do effective teachers do?” “How does working environment impact teacher effectiveness?” “The relationship of money and effectiveness.” It got me thinking, how do we measure teacher effectiveness, and what is a good definition of an effective teacher?
The reason I raise this question is that the term “effective teacher” is so open for conjecture, and in my opinion, its definition is important, especially if we are trying to increase effectiveness. Along with the definition, there is the issue of measuring it. This where I believe we have the biggest challenge.
Our profession, which is defined and outlined by those that are furthest away from the actual classroom (another essay for another day), defines teacher effectiveness as showing improvement from year to to year on standardized tests. The logic being, if students are learning, they will show growth from year to year on questions that were taught throughout the school year. Sure, they say there are other measurements, but the one they always go back to are the year end assessments. The least favorite part of my year is early August when these scores are released and I know it is the first thing we are going to look at as a faculty when we return in the fall.
The reason I loathe this time of year is not as much about the scores, but it is the amount of time and energy we put into these assessments. My students are not defined by this data. The majority of the questions are facts based. Consequently, there is very little room for evidence of critical thinking on a bubble sheet. How useful are these answers and results to students that will need problem solving and analytical skills in the real world? It is like measuring the weight of something with a meter stick!
I believe that we measure things this way because it is the easiest way to get results across the board. So for the sake of measuring everyone the same, we limit the depth and information that can truly define a teacher and more importantly, a student. There is a correlation of time and depth in almost everything we do in the classroom. Assessment is no different. Just look at the difference between using Burns and Roe’s Informal Reading Inventory and the San Diego Quick. A qualitative analysis is always better than a quantitative one, especially on a variable like effectiveness, which is, in itself, qualitative.
In my view, teacher effectiveness is defined as empowering and aiding every student to realize and achieve his or her true potential. An effective teacher differentiates, adapts, collaborates with students and colleagues. He or she is reliable and inspirational. An effective teacher reaches students at wherever they are and brings them as far as they can before handing them off to another effective teacher (hopefully). He or she looks at incorrect answers as opportunities (after all, “if you knew it already, would you need to learn it?”), finds multiple pathways to understanding (the way I learned it, probably will not be the way many of my students will learn it). An effective teacher learns from his or her students.
I know that my definition is a more romantic one of teacher effectiveness (I love what I do, what can I say?), but it is the one I choose to go with. That being said, is there any true way to measure these things on a grand scale? I believe that the bigger problem in our society is that there is very little trust and respect for the teaching profession these days. I am all for accountability, but shouldn’t real accountability be enforced at the administrative and district levels?
Ultimately, we as teachers need to measure our own effectiveness with honesty and integrity. We owe that much to our students. As for the profession’s definition, we need to find ways to let it be known that this definition is not acceptable, and push for a better one.