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MPS teachers talk about being evaluated — and so far seem pleased

MPS teachers seem excited that everyone gets observed every year, and that everyone has a plan for professional growth whether those observations reveal weakness or not.

Back in the halcyon era that was May, during the last weeks of the school year, I was invited to watch a group of Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) teachers talk about evaluations.

I was particularly eager to go for two reasons. MPS and the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT) together are said to have designed a really good system. And the district’s teachers — rightly cynical about things like merit pay schemes that don’t deliver the pay and marquee strategic initiatives that stall still in the gate — are said to be mistrustful.

The teachers I was invited to watch were members of Educators 4 Excellence, the teacher policy group I wrote about for Learning Curve on Tuesday. And they were trying to understand how MPS and its union relate to one another on the topic, both inside the contract and out.

Some were a tad uncomfortable talking about the way evaluations work in their schools in front of a reporter who might quote them. The reporter, however, was more interested in hearing how teachers in mainline public schools truly feel about being evaluated than in taking names.

Everyone observed each year

The identifying-detail-free bottom line: So far, teachers are pretty pleased with the process and the results. They are particularly jazzed that everyone gets observed every year, and that everyone has a plan for professional growth whether those observations reveal weakness or not.

In fact, their concerns center on whether the administrators who are supposed to be doing the evaluating can keep up with the work and whether something that’s surprisingly meaningful will be compromised.

It was the end of the year, and virtually all of the MPS teachers present said their evaluators were scrambling to squeeze in the required number of observations and that the crush of the workload meant feedback was often delayed in coming.

Not enough evaluators have passed the training. The evaluation tool on which they have been trained seems quite good: “If you’re a crappy teacher it will show up,” said one. “If you are not, the feelings of the assistant principal who doesn’t like [you] won’t.”

Would like feedback early in year

They would like to see evaluators’ impressions used to decide what kind of professional development would be most helpful in their buildings. And they want to be observed earlier in the year, when they have a better chance to use the feedback to drive student achievement.

The non-MPS teachers in attendance were almost envious.

My takeaway? It’s amazing that after the painful debates about “good” and “bad” teachers and whether evaluations can be meaningful, we have teachers who are anxious to open their doors and hear how they rate and what they can do to be more effective.

In sum, this particular juncture had better not fall victim to budget cutting, contract haggling or politics. 

Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Robert Panning-Miller on 08/07/2013 - 09:58 am.

    Teacher Evaluations

    This issue has already fallen victim to politics, mainly Hawkins’ and that of E4E. If you are going to “report” on the how the process is working and how teachers feel about it, you need to at least reach out to a random sample of enough teachers to be meaningful! E4E teachers are not a random sample, and there is no mention of how many of them were actually MPS teachers. To join E4E, you have to sign on to their “Declaration” that says you agree with their agenda. The agenda says they want merit pay (“performance-based pay structure”), an evaluation system that uses “value-added” student test scores (a method that has repeatedly shown to be seriously flawed), and they want to eliminate seniority when it comes to layoffs.

    E4E is one of the many corporate reform groups aimed at destroying unions and in the process they will destroy public schools. They claim to want a “voice” in the education policy discussion, and they don’t seem to realize they are destroying the one institution – the union – that actually enables them to speak up for themselves and more importantly their students.

    It is no surprise to those of us who teach, that we welcome observations, but this current system is not about improving teaching as much as it is about ranking and dividing teachers.

    • Submitted by Laura Byard on 08/07/2013 - 06:54 pm.

      Evaluations Welcomed

      As a MPS teacher, I love the new evaluation system. Since my first year I was at a SIG school, I have participated each year it has been implemented. The staff at the district is super responsive to the feedback teachers give and make changes each year. I just attended a training to lead the professional development at my school around teacher evaluation and already the protocol has been changed to lessen to load on the administrators and hopefully make the process more meaningful in this upcoming year. Some of the paperwork is taken out, but teachers still have the option to request more in-depth observations than what they are assigned if they seek more professional development.

      At the two school sites I have had a pleasure to serve at, I have not seen this “ranking” and “dividing”. I see these as conversation starters, and way to help teachers who really utilize the results to inform their practice. Or I see teachers who have been isolated in their practice fearful of the unknown. I am looking forward to have a more streamlined process so that the administration and observers can have a stronger follow-through that the previous two years, and help teachers who were not frequently observed feel more comfortable with the practice.

      Although I share the concerns for facilitating the evaluations and observations with fidelity, I am hopeful for this upcoming year due to the new changes that were based on teacher and admin feedback.

    • Submitted by Kristine Norton on 08/08/2013 - 02:46 pm.

      Teacher Evals.

      Mr. Panning-Miller knows his stuff. I support his viewpoint. I know too–as another MPS teacher.

  2. Submitted by Joe Musich on 08/07/2013 - 10:36 pm.

    Who must change ?

    Is teacher evaluation a two way street ? Until it is “it ain’t nuthin but a thang !”

  3. Submitted by Kristine Norton on 08/08/2013 - 03:01 pm.

    Evaluations…of teachers

    If senior teachers do not have, well…, seniority to protect their jobs they will be “let go” as they are more expensive to retain. If teachers do not have a strong union and contract that supports seniority this profession will be hurt. Mr. Panning-Miller knows what he is talking about. I support him. Also, evaluation that is appropriate and done by someone who has taught, with distinction, in the subject of the person being evaluated is appropriate. I have been evaluated by admin. who have never taught in my subject area or done much teaching at all. This is inappropriate. I too am a MPS teacher…

  4. Submitted by Jane Swatosh on 08/08/2013 - 03:03 pm.

    Teacher Evaluations

    The point of the first post called in to question the validity of the writers reporting given the very narrow sampling of teachers experiences. Given that Laura is also in E4E her enthusiasm for the teacher evaluations are not surprising.

    Being observed doesn’t concern me, whether it is a formal observation by a principal or 7 people from the district with clipboards observing the administrator observe me, (yes this has happened). What concerns me is a small group of people that believe in merit pay, elimination of seniority based layoffs, and VAM being used as a representation of a much larger group with varied experiences.

    If the title would have been “E4E teachers are pleased with being evaluated,” and a recap of their values it at least would have been more honest.

  5. Submitted by Laura Byard on 08/09/2013 - 08:05 am.

    Diverse Group of Evaluators

    I completely agree that we need a better pool of teacher evaluators to help make the feedback most meaningful. I have never had someone evaluate me with my same license. I know next week, there is a training for people to receive their certification in evals and I hope more veteran teacher-leaders take advantage of it! Another change this year to the evals is that you can request a specific secondary observer. This year, I hope to request someone getting the certification, a mentor teacher who is in my licensure area. Of course, if your site does not have many secondary observers, this is a problem, but that is where we as teachers can really step up and help take control of the situation. I hope more experienced teachers take advantage of the training so they can share their knowledge, prospective, and expertise with others in their buildings! Maybe even the union can help identify and recruit great teachers to take the training and become secondary observers?

  6. Submitted by Jane Swatosh on 08/09/2013 - 10:22 am.


    I have to disagree with the idea of teacher leaders becoming evaluators. Teachers are peers that support each other. The moment you become an evaluator the people you evaluate become subordinates. I taught with three probationary teachers this year the mentorship happened organically, and I also learned from them! It was a great experience. The current climate in education does not foster these relationships. The isolation that many new teachers experience is a result of the time consuming requirements that have evolved since NCLB and RTTT. Creating a hierarchy in our own ranks will only exacerbate the isolation. I know that some people take on these positions with the best intentions but I have rarely seen it work well. (i.e. TAP).

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