Summer 2019 was one for the history books. Now, it’s back to school and, in preparation for our students’ return, New York City public school teachers sat through a series of professional developments early this week intended to prepare us with information — some necessary, some not — for the pending school year. Any teacher who has been in the system for even a short time knows this protocol; however, this year some information was disseminated regarding teacher evaluations and measures of teacher practice I found disturbing.
As per the most recently negotiated teacher contract, teachers rated effective or highly effective, though receiving fewer evaluations, no longer have a choice in how many and what kinds of evaluations they agree to each year. Let me break that down and use myself as an example. I am rated as a highly effective teacher. Prior to this year, since the shift from the “Satisfactory / Unsatisfactory” rating scale to the “Highly Effective / Effective / Developing” (HEDI) rating scale, I had options to select not only what types of observations I wanted, but how many of them I wanted, as well as whether or not they could be videotaped. What that means is that I could select either four or six informal observations (unannounced classroom visits of less than 15 minutes) or a mix of one formal observation (a planned, full-period observation with pre and post conferencing with an administrator) and three informal observations, as described above.
Teachers rated “Effective” had similar options. The idea was that the lower a teacher was rated, the more observations they had and the less say-so they had in the matter. Here is a link for further explanation.
Now for the new changes: Teachers ultimately voted for “no choice” in our observations. That’s a problem. Whenever choice is taken away, it’s a problem. We advocate for our students to have choice, yet ours has been removed from the equation. As a teacher rated highly effective I will now only receive two informal observations — one in the Fall and one in the Spring.
I’m sorry, but that’s not enough of a window into what I do in my classroom. Two times in ten months?
I always opted for a formal observation. Most tenured teachers said I was crazy but there was something about having at least one observation that I was able to plan for and know about in advance that worked for me. I know many other teachers who felt the same way. That option is no longer available. I’m upset about this revocation of my rights and, from what I’ve been able to glean from other teachers, I’m not the only one who is upset.
One teacher I spoke with, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, stated, “Everyone has bad days. In the past, if I had an informal done on a “bad day”, at least I knew that I had a chance and time enough to redeem myself. Now, I don’t have that latitude and so much time will pass by with so many great lessons gone unnoticed in between, that I’m afraid I will drop in my rating from Highly Effective to Effective. That’s just not fair!”
Maybe I’m just old school, but I was trained as a teacher to always plan and implement your lesson accordingly so, no matter who walks into your classroom, you are prepared and you have no worries. I am used to superintendents and administrators walking into my room unannounced. Many of the teachers reading this know what I’m talking about. Even with that training, I identify with the teacher quoted above. It’s not the developing and ineffective teachers who will be most affected by these changes. I believe it will be the highly effective teachers, like me, who are in jeopardy of dropping into the effective tier.
I find it hard to believe that teachers were resoundingly included in the negotiations of this contract. I know my position is not in the majority. I’m fine with that. But it’s really frustrating to see the profession I love and care about so deeply get diminished to smithereens right before my eyes.