Determining Effectiveness in the Classroom
One Teacher At A Time
English teacher Brittany Clark, Middle College High School
photographs by Jane Schneider
Today is poetry day in Brittany Clark’s English class at Middle College High School and her teens are wrestling with the characters from J.D. Salinger’s novel, Catcher in the Rye.
“Today we’ll write poems based on someone else’s point of view,” she says, one that differs from the book’s narrator, 17-year-old Holden Caufield.
“Why is this important to think about that?” she asks the class. “Because it’s biased, because the story is being told from Caufield’s point of view.” So the students must consider what they know about the other characters and how they might see the world.
What is the point of the lesson? To recognize how the structure of a text supports its meaning, information that’s printed on the main bulletin board at the front of Clark’s classroom.
Before discussing today’s lesson, Clark had her students take a brief test. To find out how they did, she asked each question and students responded by holding up an index card with answer letters A through D. This technique gives her immediate feedback on who is getting the material and who is not. She didn’t use this type of tool a year ago yet she says it’s been a tremendous help, giving her a snapshot of student learning. From that feedback, she can determine whether to move forward with a lesson or continue to focus on the concept kids might have missed.
Clark also ties the day’s concept into how the students will benefit knowing this material further down the road, as they prepare for TCAP testing or the ACT. “Tying the lesson to the TCAP makes me a better teacher because it helps my students understand why they need to know this material,” she says.
Prior to the Teacher Effectiveness Initiative, Clark would have had the day’s objective on the board, “but I wouldn’t go over it with my students, they wouldn’t make the connection as to why they were learning it. But now they want to know what the objective is and what mastery looks like.”
With mastery comes learning, and that’s an outcome important to all.
Clark’s approach to teaching has been directly impacted by the Teacher Effectiveness Initiative and the Teacher Effectiveness Measure (TEM).
The new evaluation tool, which was implemented last year in MCS, provides a number of different ways for teachers to get feedback about their teaching — from four to six observations by their principal to feedback from the students they see each day. The TEM is a far cry from the annual visit teachers once had from their principals to determine their effectiveness in the classroom.
The new initiative is more rigorous and brings principals into the classroom on a routine basis. The aim of this statewide initiative is simple: To improve teaching in public schools, and by doing so, grow both teachers and students.
“This is an important change,” notes Docia Generette, principal at Middle College High School. “It will radically improve the service to our students. It’s a platform for teachers to know what’s expected but also for administrators because we’re trained to do the evaluations, so we can learn and make improvements together.”
Where evaluations used to stand or fall on a single observation by the teacher’s principal (in addition to student outcomes), TEM components are multifaceted. The purpose of the TEM is to identify areas where teachers are excelling and those where they need assistance. It was from her evaluation last year that Clark learned and later implemented tools such as the answer cards as a quick way of gauging just how much her kids are grasping concepts.
Students Also Have a Voice
With the TEM, students fill out a survey that ask specific questions, such as whether the teacher has control of the class, and if the teacher is covering material effectively. While the student evaluations don’t carry as much weight as those done by the principal, teachers like Clark still value the feedback.
“I present this as feedback for me,” she says. I asked my students to be serious because it can help me be a better teacher and I think they understand that.”
“It forces you to look at your own standards against the rubric,” notes Tequilla Banks, executive director of Teacher, Talent, and Effectiveness for the initiative. Previously, “it hasn’t been as easy for teachers to see what’s required of them. They didn’t get feedback or ideas on how to improve.”
The new model assures that teachers will get that kind of feedback. “The intent behind the evaluation is seeing the whole picture,” says Banks, “not one piece of evidence but the whole picture of what’s going on in the classroom.”