Just ask the kids!

I often have parents ask me how they can determine who are the best teachers?   All parents understand intuitively that having great teachers is vital for student growth and development –and almost every parent can “parrot”the statistic that one bad teacher can set a student back 5 years.

Good teachers matter — so avoiding the bad ones is imperative.  Parents use all kinds of ways to gather often very inaccurate information on teachers.  They rely on the fabled “grape vine” to find information about particular teachers which often focuses on the wrong things — like if the class is orderly or if the classroom is neatly decorated with interesting bulletin board displays. Yet, learning can be messy and loud.  Parents who focus on discipline, and./or process may not choose the best teachers for their children.

So, when parents asked me about who are the best teachers — I responded with two suggestions:

1.  Ask the kids; and

2.  Observe kids in classrooms!

I know — not exactly the advice you would expect.  Even with the new standards based evaluations of teachers — many – many principals simply watch the teacher.  If you just watch the teacher they can deliver an outstanding lesson that fails to connect with kids.   The new rubrics are teacher centric.  It focuses on what the teachers do and really does not adequately focus on the kids reaction to the lesson. You can fake a good lesson, but you cannot fake the kids reaction to that lesson.

Administrators, teachers and even students know this adage to be true:

If I walked into any high school or middle school in the country and stopped a group of students and asked “who are the best teachers in this school?”  I am willing to bet they will be able to give me with uncanny accuracy the names of those teachers.  What is more impressive — they answer the question without thinking.

We ignore this simple fact —  students spend 180 plus days with a teacher….they see the good — the bad — and the spectacular.  Students will describe the very best teachers with attributes like — they make learning fun, they care, they challenge me, they are funny, they know how to explain things, they are willing to work with me, they believe in me, they have high expectations for me, they know me, etc…..etc….All kinds of positive attributes centered on the individual students growth and development.  Whenever you ask newly minted teachers why they became a teacher — they often talk about that one teacher who inspired them, believed in them, saw something no one else saw, were passionate about the subject they taught — it is those teachers kids remember.

Long ago, well before the new standards based evaluation systems, a wise administrator gave me the best advice when evaluating teachers.  He said — ignore the teacher and watch all the kids. If the kids are engaged, taking notes, asking questions, on task, motivated, interested, and overall seem to connect to the lesson and the content — the teacher is doing what they need to do for kids to learn.  If kids are excited to get into the classroom, anxiously talking to the teacher about what is happening in school or in their personal lives …the teacher is doing what they need to do.  If on the other hand the kids are disengaged, sleeping, on their phones, doing other classes homework, causing disruptions and obviously not paying attention — the teacher is simply not effective even if they are delivering a decent lesson.

This seems like common sense — but surprisingly, I see all kinds of teachers get above average evaluations even in the new evaluation system without really connecting with kids.  I have walked around countless high schools and middle schools and observed kids sleeping, disengaged, out on the perpetual hall pass to the restroom, unmotivated and completely bored!  Despite the progress made with overall teacher evaluation….we still have far too many teachers standing and delivering, very little integration of technology, and Principals who do not understand classroom instruction.

Parents if you want to know who are the best teachers…go to the school — walk around — talk to kids and quickly you will know who are the best teachers in that school.  Once you have done that –demand your kids get to experience those great teachers!

Image result for cartoons of kids in classrooms bored


About James Herrholtz

Consultant, Teacher, Coach, Administrator for over 23 years. I have been a superintendent of schools, College Instructor, and worked at the Ohio Department of Education heading up the Division of Learning.
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