I had another guest column in the biweekly City&State print and online editions. This time, I address teacher evaluations writing that teacher performance requires mental toughness, extra effort.
Mental toughness, extra effort
The other day, I thought about my 7th grade music teacher, Mr. Lewinsohn, an accomplished jazz trumpeter, who tried his level best to teach me to play the French horn.
As I struggled to play a single recognizable note, sweat would gush from his forehead. With each effort, he’d swipe his brow and say, “No, no.” To show me proper technique and breathing, he’d inflate his cheeks to what seemed to be the size of cantaloupes as he blew into his horn. He tried. He really tried.
I tried very hard to accomplish a near impossible feat fearing that a pitiful music grade counted in my GPA. Today, I wince at the idea of his pay, his reputation and his public standing hanging on how well I did.
Yet, accountability matters. It mattered then as well as today. Parents probably don’t get quite as upset over low music grades as they do over failing math and reading scores. Musically-challenged high school graduates probably can find employment much more easily than their functionally illiterate peers.
Granted, not all teacher performance can be measured using test scores. Music and art educators and – those punch lines known as – gym teachers have effects on the academic success of students which cannot be easily quantified or assessed.
The recently released teacher evaluation data for public and charter school teachers are a great public service to parents and taxpayers. Despite the flaws, we have to start somewhere.
Teacher evaluations are an important complement to the annual release of student test scores.
Teacher evaluations are supposed to be a blend of 40 percent student learning and 60 percent teacher classroom performance. Critics point out that the state tests have been marred by “rampant test score inflation” and that teacher data reports based on them are worthless.
The UFT and their allies want us to believe that poverty and race explain why their students don’t perform well on state and federal assessment tests. Therefore, they say it’s unfair to include student test results in teacher evaluations. But the job of teachers should be to reach all students and to get the best performance from them.
Critics say that posting overall school ratings and ranks should be enough. They ask why individual teachers should be singled out when, for instance, individual cops and firefighters are not singled and held responsible for neighborhood crime statistics or emergency response times.
It’s tough to hang the performance of a precinct or a firehouse on any one uniformed worker – although I’d favor making their disciplinary records public, because those matter much more for any one person’s performance – but despite all the legitimate caveats the UFT raises, it is undeniable that each teacher is a compelling influence on any student.
Grades, scores and personal assessments are diagnostic snapshots indicating smooth performance or a larger problem. A yearly series of these snapshots allows for diagnostic patterns to emerge. I’d rather have an inferior teacher identified after 3-4 years than after ten or twenty years.
Students and parents are better served by teacher evaluations.
Former Wichita State basketball coach Gene Smithson was asked once to explain the letters, “MTXE” stenciled onto his players’ uniforms. The coach explained that the stencil reinforced his players’ dedication to the values of “mental toughness and extra effort” which leads to success on and off the court. I believe the same is true for students, teachers and school administrators.
The UFT should emblazon “MTXE” on their letterhead, newsletter masthead, and union logo as a message to their membership. Parents should purchase “MTXE” refrigerator magnets, book covers, backpacks, and cellphones covers in order to drive home this message to their children.
Teachers and union officials must realize that the best job protection is superior performance, mental toughness and extra effort. If they can’t commit to that, then they should look for work elsewhere.
Mr. Lewinsohn was undeterred by his tone-deaf students. He gave us his best effort each day.
Our children and their children deserve teachers like Mr. Lewinsohn.
Teacher evaluations don’t denigrate great teachers. Bad teachers denigrate great teachers.