Evaluating the Teacher
Q. We weren't happy
with our child's teacher this year. Now there's a chance our child might get
another teacher who is far from the best in our school. We don't want two years
in a row with a teacher who isn't very good. But we don't want to hurt
anybody's feelings or set up our daughter as a target or anything. How can we
be responsible "customers" of education without causing problems for ourselves
Lazy? Boring? Mean? Inflexible? Don't like kids? Acting
depressed? Sick a lot? Alcoholic? Suffering from an eating disorder in front of
the kids? Making sexually suggestive comments? Sending far more kids to the
principal's office to be disciplined than other teachers do?
Welcome to the real world. Teachers are people, too!
Why should it be surprising that sometimes they have bad days, and some are a
lot more competent and pleasant to be around than others?
Remember, most teachers are deemed excellent or good
by their students' parents, national polls show. But true, if your child
happens to get assigned to one who could be characterized as "mediocre" or "poor,"
then it can be a problem.
Research shows that it can be a real setback for your
child to spend a year with a negative or even mediocre teacher. Two or three
years with a poor teacher, and your child's educational progress may never get
back on track, with serious missing skills and holes in the knowledge base.
ahead and ask to have input on your child's next teacher. A quick, cordial,
private conversation with the principal expressing your concerns should be
enough to make sure your child gets in a classroom with the best possible teacher
the following year. Be sure to follow up with a thank-you note when it happens.
If you do write a letter or speak to a teacher's boss, even if you're
expressing serious criticism or describing negative experiences, remember the
"80 / 20 Rule." Make 80% of what you say or write positive and affirming, or at
least neutral - "we realize she's trying her best," "all anybody wants is a
good experience in school for all children," etc. Then you come off as a nice
person with honest concerns, not a critic or a crank.
So it's important to be vigilant, and to keep
networking with other parents. It's also important to stay in honest
communication with the principal when you think there is a real problem with a
that you don't just like a personality conflict mushroom into a belief that the
teacher is incompetent. Usually, the two go hand in hand - bad personality, bad
job performance. But not always.
How to stay
objective? Obtain your school district's teacher evaluation document from the
central office. Study the job expectations, which should be listed in detail. It
will list things such as arriving to work on time, keeping a written record of
grades, scheduling the right amount of time each week for each subject, and so
Perhaps a teacher
who isn't personally likeable really is doing most of the job correctly, and
just has a few weak areas that aren't all that major in the scheme of things.
Or maybe not: maybe the evaluation document shows that you're right, and this
teacher is really awful and not fulfilling the job duties.
Photocopy it and if
you think there are areas where the teacher is deficient, distribute the
document to other parents, without bird-dogging anything. If their observations
match yours, you might be on to something. This way, you all can see what the
district's specific expectations are for a teacher for things like daily
scheduling, respect for students, content mastery, organization skills,
classroom management, etc. And you have a strong reference point for your
concerns, and aren't just whistling Dixie.
As an example of how the evaluation document can help,
consider this anecdote:
A fifth-grade teacher was known to give almost all
"A's" in math, even though over the years, many parents felt she was a poor
math teacher and many of the students had not mastered math skills to a "C"
level, much less an "A." Then, at parent-teacher conference time, an observant
mom asked why her son was receiving a "B" that grading period. The grades he'd
brought home were all A's, or almost all, she thought.
The teacher opened up her gradebook, and pointed to a
recent test, on which he had received a score of 91%, which is a "B." A grade
of "A" was given in that school for a grade average of 93% or higher.
Now, there were 10 or 12 other grades in that
gradebook, all of them in the high 90's. The teacher pointed to the 91% on the
one test, and said it had really taken his average down.
But the mom whipped out a calculator, inputted all of
the grades during that grading period, and showed that the real average, even
with the 91%, was still a 97%.
The teacher admitted that she had just "averaged" the
91% with the 97% standing average representing 10 or 12 other tests. Why?
Because it took less time to "average" two numbers than 12.
She didn't realize her "average" would be dead wrong,
with that method. It turns out she had so little confidence in her own math
ability that she was giving most of the children "A's" so that their parents
wouldn't ask too many questions.
On that district's evaluation document, though, was a
requirement that the teacher's grading methods should be accurate, and of
course, this teacher's method fell far short.
The mom reported it to the principal, and the teacher
was sent to mandatory remedial workshops to try to prevent a recurrence. The
principal was amazed that no one had ever discovered this - and the teacher had
been teaching for 25 years.
School officials get very little feedback, pro and
con, from parents. They appreciate it when parents take the time to share their
observations and concerns. Just be smart about how you do it, and everyone will
be better off.
Homework: The book, Dealing With Difficult Teachers by Todd
Whitaker, is for principals, but contains a lot of great information that
parents may need so that they can understand what the administrator is trying
to do about their problem situation. A principal might really appreciate
receiving this book as a gift, too! I like this section heading: "Retirement
and Other Miracles."