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High school students should evaluate their teachers


High school students are given a lot of responsibility. Expectations are high, as we prepare our teens to be young, responsible adults. Often teens are employed in addition to attending a full day of school. Many are participating in school sports and other extra curricular activities. We expect them to utlize their time, use their reasoning and to adopt the values of adults. Yet, we do not listen to our students. We do not value their opinions. But, we should. We should ask them about the daily atmosphere in their classrooms. We should ask them how they feel about their teachers. We should give them the credit for recognizing the qualities that make a good teacher, a fair teacher, a teacher who inspires them to do their best. We should take into account their evaluations of their teachers.

Why should students do teacher evaluations?

  • Students are in the classroom. They observe on a daily basis the interaction between a teacher and the students. When others [administration or parents] visit the classroom, the teacher and students are on their best behavior, similar to when our boss observes us at work. It is impossible to fully evaluate the day-to-day atmosphere in a classroom unless one is in the classroom daily.
  • Often the exceptionally good teachers are overlooked. They do not "toot their own horn" by calling attention to their teaching style. They just do their job and they do it well. The students know when a teacher is sincere. They know when they are learning new ideas and receiving encouragement. We need to ask the students who the good teachers are so we can recognize and reward them.
  • Correctable problems are identified. If the problems in a classroom are related to teaching style [control, respect, behavior, etc.], it is possible, if caught early in a teacher's career, that more time could be spent re-training the teacher. The teacher could learn techniques that promote a learning atmosphere. A good teacher will value the input from the students and use it to improve his teaching style.
  • Our goal is to improve the learning atmosphere. If a teacher is oblivious to abusive behaviors occurring in the classroom, student evaluations would point it out. A teacher could be taught to be more aware of undercurrents in the classroom that interferes with learning and may create safety issues.

The arguments against students doing teacher evaluations:

  • Students are not qualified to do evaluations. There is no one else who spends as much time in the classroom as the students. Their impressions and opinions will be just a small part of a teacher's portfolio. An alternative to improving the learning atmosphere, without utilizing student evaluations, is to install a video/audio camera in every classroom.
  • Evaluations would be used to terminate or reprimand teachers. If one of two evaluations came back negative but the majority of the evaluations came back neutral or positive, it is likely the negative ones would be written off as a few disgruntled students. However, if the majority of evaluations came back with negative and disturbing comments on them, they would be investigated, and if found true, disciplinary action would [and should] be taken.
  • It is not in the Teacher's Union contract. The purpose of a teacher's contract is to give teachers job security, good benefits and decent working conditions. It is not meant to protect abusive and incompetent teachers.
  • Who will create the questionaire? The questionaire should be short and concise. A committee could be formed to put the questionaire together. The committee should consist of teachers, parents, students and administration. Check with other schools and businesses to see how they handle employee evaluations of management. It should be designed to identify positive teachers as well as destructive teachers; strengths as well as weaknesses. The questionaire should leave space where a student can write in comments. Students should be asked how they would like to see the class improved. A student that feels uncomfortable at expressing his/her opinion in class or in a group discussion will be grateful to have the opportunity to share his/her opinion on the questionaire.
  • It is a witch-hunt for disgruntled students. True, there will be some undeserved negative comments. However, the one or two odd evaluations will not affect the total evaluation. The adminstration realize an unhappy student may try to get even with a teacher and sabotage the questionaire. A possible solution to this dilemma is to have the students fill out the evaluations before their final test is taken and their grades are in but the teacher may not see the questionaires until after the grades have been issued. This is to protect both the student and the teacher from possible repercussions.
  • It's nothing but a popularity contest. Some feel that if teachers are being evaluated by students they will make their classes easier in an effort to get a better evaluation from the students. It is possible. That is not the reasoning of a good teacher. Students are very intuitive. It would be hard to be on one's best behavior for an entire semester just to get a good evaluation. If a student was challenged by the amount of information he learned from the class, he would be honest about it. If it was a blow-off class or one he felt was a waste of time, he would tell you. Students feel no obligation to make it easier for the next class coming in. If the class was hard and the student didn't turn in the work receiving a bad grade as a result, most would admit to their laziness. On the other hand, if most of the students worked as hard as they could and still received bad grades, they will tell you the class was too hard.
  • Grades indicate whether teachers are doing their jobs well. Many feel evaluations are unnecessary since the grades are indicative of the learning process going on in the classroom. But grades are only the end result and only a part of the learning process. Some teachers have their curriculum so simple that the only ones who could possibly fail are those who don't go to class. Others are at the other end of the spectrum and passing in their class in nearly impossible for even the best students. And you may have teachers who dislike a student and good grades may be impossible to obtain despite the work performed. This situation can be easily identified with a student evaluation.
  • Teachers don't want student evaluations. Evaluations are part of the business world. Teachers should not consider themselves above other professions. In the workplace, employees are evaluated in a number of ways. A sales associate at a store is evaluated by management, other employees, and customers. Management is often critiqued by employees and other management levels. There is no place in the business world where one is not evaluated. Even the self-employed are being evaluated by their customers. We all need evaluations to remind us to set goals and do our best.

Reasons why evaluations are imperative - The extreme case.

In 1994, an Illinois high school coach [and English teacher] was spending his time off the field, sexually abusing some of his female students. The abuse had gone on for 11 years before he was finally charged with sexual abuse. We may never know the real number of girls he had abused. It is estimated he abused at least one student per semester!

Would student evaluations have prevented this coach's abuse? Since behavior has to exist before it can be reported, it is unlikely that all of girls would have been spared. However, given the opportunity to anonymously report his behavior, a significant number of students would have chosen to. Even if they were unaware of the extent of the teacher's sexual misconduct, there were other indicators of inappropriate and predatory behavior that the students would have alerted the staff to. With negative reports coming in, it would be unconscionable not to investigate thoroughly. Identifying abusive teachers will save students from pain and heartache and save school districts from potential lawsuits.

Conclusion:

A teacher holds the most important and influential job in the country - teaching our children. The influence of a good teacher is phenomenal. The effects of a bad teacher can be life-long. We must hold teachers accountable for the job they do. Reward the good ones. Train the ones worth keeping and get rid of those who are hurting our kids.

Our goal is not to put pressure upon the good teachers, but to identify and appreciate them. It is not to organize a student-run witchhunt; it is to identify teachers who have a negative and destructive impact on our students. In other words, our goal is to identify and recognize the good, to assist the struggling, and to rid our schools of the incompetent and abusive.

Who could argue with that?

Connie Eccles, CEO of ComPortOne


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