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Friday, February 19, 2010

The Effective Teacher

PROSPERO (to his daughter, Miranda)
Now I arise:
Resumes his mantle
Sit still, and hear the last of our sea-sorrow.
Here in this island we arrived; and here
Have I, thy schoolmaster, made thee more profit
Than other princesses can that have more time
For vainer hours and tutors not so careful.

The Tempest, Wm Shakespeare I, ii

I was reminded about how powerful The Tempest is when I saw an excellent performance at BAM the other evening. Prospero, the schoolmaster, serves as a fine model for all of us. He uses his magic to help transform others and then wishes them well as they move on. As instructed in the epilogue, "we give him good hands," because we know he has done well, has been an effective teacher, as his scholars demonstrate. Shakespeare has provided us a good sampling of schoolmasters in his plays, some good and some poor. How can we use these examples in our own practice and assessment of effective teachers?

Do a Google search for "effective teacher" and we will find page after page of what makes an effective teacher. A sampling like this is what we find:
Here are 10 qualities of a great teacher: (1) has a sense of humor; (2) is intuitive; (3) knows the subject matter; (4) listens well; (5) is articulate; (6) has an obsessive/compulsive side; (7) can be subversive; (8) is arrogant enough to be fearless; (9) has a performer’s instincts; (10) is a real taskmaster.
Assessing effective teaching is the newest trend in teacher evaluation from the new federal government's "Race to the Top." One of the tactics our governors are using is to tie student test performance to teacher tenure or even job. Now on the face of this one might ask, "What is wrong with this?" Good question, but not as simple to do or assess. Exactly which teacher was responsible for the scholar's success or lack of it on any test? Our scholars have many teachers and some scholars use knowledge acquired last year this year. There are too many variables in a scholar's education to use test results as a teacher assessment criteria. The Maryland governor demonstrates a new surge in using test results as part of the new method to grant tenure to teachers in his state. Boston is revamping its method of evaluating teachers to include results on the tests. The mayor of NYC has also instructed the chancellor to do this too. In his letter to teachers the chancellor outlines the process with this caveat:
Our goal is to align tenure decisions more effectively with the results you are achieving every day. But let me be clear: we are not proposing to base tenure decisions on student test scores alone—that would be insufficient. We want to use all of the information available to us—from many different sources such as classroom observations and teacher work products—so that we can make fully informed decisions about each teacher’s readiness for career success.
Other examples:
1. Teachers in mass firing plan to appeal dismissal
2. Best Practices in the Middle Grades Identified: Using tests to find best practices.

One of the downsides to this will be cheating. We have seen cheating done by administrators and teachers before when their job and even school's existence was on the line. We are well aware of how other professionals have cheated in one way or another to enhance their performance, make themselves look more effective, or keep what they believe is theirs. Already we are reading about possible cheating on test scores in Georgia.
Georgia education officials ordered investigations on Thursday at 191 schools across the state where they had found evidence of tampering on answer sheets for the state’s standardized achievement test.
This example raises the very important idea of auditing. We have learned our lesson about little or no auditing in the financial industry, so let's not make that mistake in education. Not only do we need to assess schools and teachers, we also need to assess the test, examine the results of the tests carefully and not allow the test companies to destroy these corrected tests because they may be very important in assessing schools and teachers. If we use the tests to assess the scholars, the teachers, and the schools, I hope we also assess the tests and their results so we make no or as few mistakes as possible. We have seen grievous and even heinous test errors in the past.

There are many variables in having a good educational system. They are effective schools, effective teachers, and effective tests. As the chancellor said, tests are merely a part of the whole and they should be assessed as rigorously as principals and teachers are being assessed. The key to education is that we want our scholars to prosper. Don't put too much trust or stock in the assessment tool because those tests are made by companies interested in making a profit. Teachers are interested in "making more profit" for the scholar as Prospero explains to Miranda as the play begins.

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