The Public Education Department recently released data that indicates that more teachers are effective according to the state’s teacher evaluation system. More New Mexico students are being taught by highly effective and exemplary teachers. This should be a time to celebrate the growth that teachers and students are making in the state. Instead, recent articles continue to focus on attacking the systems that are contributing to better education in New Mexico.
The new evaluation system doesn’t make me a better teacher, but it does give me the information I need to become a better teacher. Teaching is an art that requires many years of practice, reflection and refinement. For the first 13 years of my career, that reflection and refinement was based mostly on anecdotal data – how I felt a lesson went, what I thought my students learned. Now I have years’ worth of data points on multiple measures to quantify my level of success in the classroom. I can more easily pinpoint areas for improvement and be assured about my areas of strength.
The evaluation system doesn’t make me a better teacher, but it does give me credibility. Credibility with the public, my parents, my principals and superintendent, but most importantly with my students. It makes it easier for me to say to the general public, to legislators, to the PED — I am doing my job well.
I am doing it well, and here is proof in several different forms; how much growth the students in my classes make during the course of one year, how my evaluator rates the quality of my lessons after being in my room on multiple occasions, how much professional learning and leadership I engage in during the course of a year. The evaluation system gives me the power to prove that I am a professional and deserve to be treated as such.
The evaluation system isn’t the answer to all our problems, but isn’t the cause of them either. I spend a lot of time talking to my students about perspective and about how the truth in most situations falls somewhere between the two loudest opposing voices. The PED isn’t always right or wrong, and the union or district office aren’t always right or wrong. As we work to continue improving the education system in New Mexico, teachers need to add their voices to the conversation.
It is time to start using the evaluation system as a tool for improvement and empowerment, not as an obstacle to teachers growing as professionals and students growing as learners. The attacks on the evaluation system need to stop. Let’s give it a fair shot, and ensure proper implementation. Allow this system to be used as the tool it was meant to be and let’s use the data to focus on individual support for our teachers that will benefit our students.
Amanda Bader is a teacher in Rio Rancho Public Schools and a Teach Plus New Mexico Teaching Policy Fellowship alumna.