The Albatross


Growing up I was a straight A student. Even the possibility of a B was enough to put me in a panic and a state of depression. It was okay for others to get a B…but not me. It felt like failing.

I may be an adult, but I feel like I’m failing a lot these days

Much has been said in the last year or two about tying test scores to teacher evaluations. It’s wrong to rely on the work of an eight-year-old to determine who keeps their job or which schools remain open. It doesn’t make sense for the art teacher or the music teacher to be given scores on subjects that they don’t teach taken by students who may or may not be in their classes. And as of last week, we finally have legal precedent on our side.

But what about the part that is allegedly in your control as a teacher?

What about your observations?

As the phrases No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top entered our vocabularies, teacher evaluations began to change drastically. Many states–if not all–are using evaluation programs developed by people who have never taught. Teachers have been given rubrics with several dozen items that must all be hit within one lesson in order to get a good score.  Personally, it’s impossible for me to get all of that in. It’s too much; I can’t fit all of that in each lesson. It doesn’t make sense.

But it’s not just that. The evaluators are, after all, human. So while Evaluator A might score a lesson as above average or excellent, it could be scored as average or deficient by Evaluator B. I could fill this blog with stories I’ve heard from friends and colleagues discussing the discrepancy in scores. Here are just a few:

  • Two teachers planned the same lesson together for their individual observations. They were observed by different people; one scored top marks while the other scored below average.
  • One teacher used the same lesson plan at two different schools in two consecutive years. Same plans, vastly different scores.
  • One teacher was removed from the building for poor teaching. In her next school she had excellent scores.

And then there is this. What if your evaluator doesn’t like you? Or has favorites, and you’re not in the cool crowd? Or doesn’t like that you’re a union member, or that you speak up, or that you think for yourself?

It sounds juvenile. It sounds unprofessional. It sounds political.

It is all of those.

But that’s not stopping it from happening.

The one year I was brave and spoke up, I made one comment in one meeting where school leadership was present. Two days later they “just happened” to realize that my number of observations for the year should be double what I was told originally.

All of this from one comment.

Especially in right to work states, speaking up in any capacity–from a school board meeting to the teachers’ lounge–can come back to haunt you. Something as small as a Facebook like can cost you your job. Most teachers stay uninformed, lost in a cloud of busyness and “if I keep my head to the ground, maybe I won’t get noticed.” Thinking for yourself, let alone having the audacity to think something different from the status quo, is dangerous. What better way for an administrator to show that than in your observation scores? They are the albatross. You need good scores to keep your job. You need good scores to even move to a new building.

This weighs on teachers’ minds all year, but I think it weighs heaviest of all in the spring. That is when observations are being finished for the year. That is when decisions are made for next year. That is when someone decides if you get a next year as a teacher.

Teachers, what have been your experiences? Feel free to share in the comments below or message me directly and I can post them for you anonymously. (Trust me, no one values anonymity more than me!) Let’s start getting the word out about the ways that we are erroneously judged.




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slice of life


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