There has been a lot of talk about how best to evaluate teachers lately, especially with the “new” movement to include student test data as part of a teacher’s evaluation. Diane Ravitch’s blog has provided much evidence about how student test data has been shown not to be a good measure of teacher quality. So what is a good measure of teacher quality, and why is this question one we find it so hard to answer?

Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink states that experienced students are capable of making incredibly accurate decisions about how good teachers are within seconds of sitting in their classes.

Our amazing brains may be accurate in such split-second knowledge when we are connoisseurs of a particular skill, but since we also want to document this quality and provide feedback about improvement, we need a little more to go on. We need not just the accurate  judgment of who is good and who is not, but the substance that constitutes it to help administrators and teachers do their jobs well.

North Carolina’s attempt to do this resulted in a ten-page teacher evaluation instrument—fairly comprehensive but overwhelming, especially for new teachers and for the administrators who were expected to fill these out multiple times a year for every teacher. Modifications were still being suggested last I heard to make the process more efficient and practical.

At my latest evaluation, my principal said he didn’t like the re-directive look I gave a student to get her back on the task of editing instead of talking, even though it effectively got the student back on task. He said instead I should have been walking around the room telling students what a good job they were doing, even though I couldn’t possibly read the papers and assess the editing job by just glancing over their shoulders. I wish he’d had a context in which to judge that look or that student or my class, but he only sat in one day at the very end of the year. He didn’t use the NC form at all so that good comprehensive material wasn’t covered in my evaluation. Tenured teachers have different guidelines, I think.

I heard something recently, however, that turned my head about teacher evaluation. We were discussing this topic at the Sunday dinner table last night, and my daughter’s boyfriend offered his suggestion for how to evaluate teachers: The only way to know if a teacher is effective or not is to look down the road many years and see what becomes of the students the teacher had—what kind of jobs they have, what kind of citizens they become, what kind of people they become.  This is the measure of a good teacher.

I can certainly recall the teachers who had an impact on who I became and continue to become. Can’t you? Anyone want to tell the story? Maybe we will gain some insight on teacher evaluation through your stories.