Aurora literacy teacher Jessica Cuthbertson says the best way to measure educator effectiveness would be seeing where students end up – though that might be impossible to measure.
Recently, a teacher-friend posted this on Facebook: “Teachers – we’re not in it for the income, we’re in it for the outcome.”
After a long, hard week it was just the sort of cliché I needed to read, “like” and re-post. I needed to remind myself of my purpose in this complex profession.
My week had included a full-day training for teachers and principals from 12 schools in our district. Representatives from these schools volunteered to be involved in an internal pilot of SB-191, the new educator evaluation system slated for statewide implementation in 2014.
Using the district’s rubric, adapted and closely aligned to the state’s version, we began to explore the five quality standards related to professional practice. We examined more than 450 boxes organized under each standard. We noted that evaluators might respond to each element with an answer ranging from “not evident” to “exemplary.”
Teachers are perfectionists by nature. We know we work in an environment that lends itself to imperfections – we will never have the “perfect classroom environment,” “perfect lesson,” “perfect assessment,” “perfect resource” or “perfect combination” of students. But it doesn’t stop us from trying to reach a utopian state in our practice.
After all, we’re in it for the outcomes.
So it was mildly disconcerting to see so many boxes that would need to be checked to be “exemplary” or even “accomplished” or “proficient.” Most teachers I know, myself included, want to be exemplary.
And I get it – it shouldn’t be easy.
Over the next 24 hours, I went from brainstorming about how to demonstrate exemplary teaching … to worrying that brainstorming about how to demonstrate exemplary teaching might actually be taking time and energy away from the 70 adolescents I was supposed to be planning for, evaluating, conferring with and supporting.
Then I had a realization.
As daunting and comprehensive as the tool appears, it will never include enough boxes. It will never be able to truly measure the outcomes of an exemplary teacher, especially within a given year of his or her career.
Our outcomes will always outsize the rubric.
The day following the training, I agreed to meet a former student for coffee after school. As her sixth-grade teacher six years ago, I had promised to support her class with the transition between high school and college if they looked me up their senior year.
Feyone, an exemplary scholar, accomplished musician and aspiring bio-medical engineer, decided to take me up on my offer.
Feyone was already an extraordinary person six years ago. And over a latte, her college admissions essay and her resume, I learned that she had become even more extraordinary. Currently ranked third in her graduating class, Feyone is student body president, a lover of the arts, a survivor of honors chemistry and a person who is deeply committed to community service. In a matter of months, when she chooses from among the scholarships stuffing her mailbox, she will be a first-generation college student on the campus of her choice.
Feyone is an outcome.
The pride and awe I feel from having played a teeny, tiny part in her academic success will never be fully realized on an evaluation rubric. But that’s irrelevant. She is my evaluator.
I can’t take credit for Feyone’s success – although I like to think that my colleagues and I have helped her along the way. But her accomplishments also result from her hard work, disposition, aptitude, intellectual curiosity and strategic choices. And I know for every Feyone I bump into at the grocery store, there are a host of other students who are struggling. Students I could have done more for.
I may never be “exemplary.” But my students will be.
They are the outcomes. And the reason I try every day to be a little bit better.
About our First Person series:
First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.