Saturday, October 26, 2013

Observations and the New Teacher Evaluation

As an educator being evaluated has always been part of the system, the principal/supervisor comes in, observes what you are doing, takes some notes and then writes it up. If you're lucky and have a supportive supervisor you might even have a post-observation meeting in which you discuss ways to better your teaching.

For the past 6 years I worked at a school where observations were done randomly without any warning. Formal observations (you know, the ones where you had a pre & post-obervation meeting) were unheard of. The principal popped in for informal observations whenever he wanted and stayed for as long as he wanted. If he didn't like what he saw he stayed longer, if he liked what he saw (or liked you) his visits were short and sweet and to the point. We were often observed as the students were walking in to unpack, the day before or the day after vacations, etc. Certain teachers were observed more than others, and things were very subjective!

Now the administration is under strict rules to follow a 22 part scoring rubric! Yes 22 parts! WOW! That's a lot!!! From the way we act as professionals to how we interact with parents. From how our classrooms are set up and organized to whether or not we ask higher level questions with our students. In theory principals/supervisors are supposed to write down everything they hear and see while they are in our rooms and then use this cut and dry scoring rubric to give us a grade.

Four weeks into the new school year... and my first year in my new school... with a brand new reading/ writing curriculum that is in its very first year and no one knows anything about the program and a brand new math program... I was observed! I'm not going to lie, after my experiences last year I was a bit jittery and a bit nervous. I didn't know what to expect! I took a deep breath and just tried my best! I acted as if my supervisor wasn't in the room and went on with my lesson. It took almost 3 weeks but I finally got my observation write-up back. I can see the pros and cons of this new system.

The pros: the feedback was clear and to the point. I know exactly which of the 22 domains I need to "improve" upon and which I am doing an excellent job in! I can clearly look back at my write up and see what I should be focusing on to make my teaching better. I can honestly say I left my post-observation meeting feeling like I was truly being supported! My supervisor wasn't "out to get me" but was looking for ways to help me become an even better teacher!

The cons: my biggest complaint right now is that I was graded on my questioning technique... which in my opinion wasn't exactly very fair. Let's take a look at this from the outside. The rubric states that using only recall questions is not an effective teaching practice, yes I agree. Teachers, even Kindergarten teachers, should be using higher level questions to get their kiddies to think! But does the rubric take into account the time of year, or the fact that I am teaching 27 students, 16 of which are ELL whose primary language is Spanish, oh and I don't speak a lick of Spanish? No the rubric does not take into account things like this... the rubric is black and white, cut and dry... what we (supervisors) see and hear is what we can score on. The real kicker was when my supervisor stated that she realized it was early in the year and that my students in particular were not ready for a very deep conversation regarding A House for Hermit Crab, and yet, knowing this she chose to score me on this domain rather than writing N/A with a note stating that it was too early in the year to score this. I guess the only positive is that I can only improve from here! My other complaint is that 22 domains is A LOT! I mean how can anyone wrap their head around all 22 domains at once. It might have been nice of they decided to roll out this evaluation system in pieces. This year we will focus on mastering the domains in category 1, then the following year add in the 2nd area, then the 3rd and finally the 4th. It would have been nice to take this slow... but then again look at the district I'm in... they took on using a literacy program that is still being written and has not been tested in any classrooms EVER!!!

Has your district rolled out a teacher evaluation system? What do you think about it?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The First 28 Days

Wow! I can't believe 28 days has already gone by... where has the time gone? It has been quite an adventure getting used to my new school, which I am loving by the way. Sometimes taking a blind leap of faith really does work out for the best in the end!

My new school is nothing like my old school... here's a breakdown of some of the major differences (in now particular order):

  • I am now in a Title 1 school - this has been a big change for me. We are lacking many basic supplies and I have had to reach into my own pocket to purchase supplies for the classroom that I never thought I'd have to buy. I've also had to adapt many of my practices to make them work with the supplies I do have. It's been a learning curve but it's pushing me to be a more creative and engaging teacher!
  • The students wear uniforms - personally I think this is a wonderful thing. I never have to worry about someone coming in wearing inappropriate items.
  • There is an unspoken dress code for teachers - while our contract does not outline a dress code the teachers in this school dress with pride, nice clothes and nice shoes every day... jeans and sneakers are frowned upon. 
  • Take Risks! - We are encouraged to take risks and try new things. We are encouraged to take our curriculum and make it work for our students. We are encouraged to do what it take to get through to the kids so they can learn! We are encouraged to be creative and make teaching and learning fun! 
  • Learning Centers - We are expected to have literacy centers 4 days a week and teach guided reading during this time. While I'm still doing assessments my students are loving the idea of having center time and are thriving on it. 
  • Copies are limited - We have to submit our papers a week in advance and have proof of why we want to use it. I have not yet taken risks with my copies and have been making copies at home which isn't cheap!
  • No printers - We don't have free access to printers. I am used to having a printer at my ready all day long. Now I have to be extra prepared - everything has to be printed out at home and brought in. This is taking A LOT of getting used to for me!
  • Collaboration is limited - I'm used to meeting and planning together every day... here we are working towards that but I often find out about projects and activities that the other teachers are doing after the fact and have to rush to figure out how to make the activities they are doing work with my class.
  • New Curriculum - The school took on two new curriculums this year - math and literacy.
With all these differences it's been a struggle the first 28 days to get organized and figure out how I want to do everything. I am finally getting into a nice groove.

It's taken me a while to figure out the best way to teach our new literacy curriculum. There isn't any research on this new program that has been widely adopted and it's the first year it's being used so everyone is learning as they go which means there are no "experts" to go to when you have a question. I've got a good handle on the reading aspect of this new program - but I'm still struggling with figuring out the best way to teach writing based on this program. I'm also trying to figure out the best way to make cross-curricular connections with social studies and science. The best part though - PROJECTS!!! We are encouraged to do projects, lots and lots of projects. My goal is to get ahead of the game in my planning so I can figure out some great projects for SS and Science!

I'm also trying to find some great math projects/activities that tie into my math curriculum. We teach math for 2 periods, which is longer than I've ever taught math... so I'd love to spend part of that time doing hands on projects to reinforce what I'm teaching.

It's been a struggle to keep up with all the planning that I have to do this year but I'm hoping to get ahead of the game at some point. I'm also trying to plan everything out so that come next fall everything is ready to go!