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.