There is only one way to determine the effectiveness of individuals, and it is rather difficult and expensive to implement. I will expound on that later, but first let me explain my own experiences in this regard.
At the time that I quit teaching, which was 1993, teacher promotions and raises were almost exclusively based on student evaluations. I was teaching mathematics and I was of the old school in that I demanded that the students do homework and the necessary exercises.
One day, one of my students addressed me by using my first name. It came as a shock to me, for I always addressed my own professors as Professor, Mr., Dr. or Miss — whatever was appropriate.
I told one of my colleagues about the incident and he told me, “Oh yes, we all do that. It makes for better relations with the students.” In other words, they were making pals of their students for the sake of favorable evaluations.
I also found out that my colleagues were not assigning any homework because students did not like to do homework. They were coddling students for the sake of favorable evaluations.
Now, I don’t care who you are or how intelligent you are, you cannot learn mathematics by simply sitting through lectures. Exercises and drills are absolutely necessary. They are as necessary as physical conditioning is necessary to an athlete.
I don’t know how my colleagues evaluated their students, for I wasn’t so nosy so as to inspect their examinations. I suspect they simply gave their students A’s or B’s, thereby getting favorable evaluations for themselves.
In my estimation, they were cheating their students by providing them with easy grades without giving them an education.
But I really lost it when I found out that one of my colleagues took an hour of class time and ordered pizza and soft drinks for the entire class a day or two before evaluations were handed out to them. He sought favorable evaluations by literally providing a pizza party for them. That is when I lost it and decided to quit (or retire), for I had reached the necessary age of 59 1/2.
I was getting poor evaluations and my colleagues were getting good ones for all the wrong reasons. I don’t know if these conditions still exist, for it happened 21 years ago. I have had practically no contact with students since then.
There is only one way to evaluate teachers. That is to take a common statewide exam. This exam should be made up by randomly selected teachers of the subject. These randomly selected teachers should be selected for each exam so that the style of the exam cannot be standardized and teaching of the subject cannot be directed simply to the taking of exams.
The implications are that such exams would be clumsy, difficult to implement and expensive, but it is the only way true evaluations can be made. Also, it would only be useful to the sciences and a few other subjects. It would not work for any subject such as marketing. It would be impossible to implement in subjects such as the arts or creative writing.
Evaluation by colleagues cannot be trusted either. Petty politics, rivalries and jealousies enter into the picture. So, my suggestion to politicians or others concerned with teacher evaluations is simply to live with it and try to let it be. Lazy and incompetent teachers will usually be found out and be discouraged to continue. Outstanding teachers will also be found out and be properly rewarded.
Incompetent teachers will sometimes be overpaid and competent teachers will sometimes be underpaid. This condition will always exist and we will simply have to accept it.
Competence in teaching comes with enthusiasm for the subject. I don’t think enthusiasm can be measured. Leave it up to the educators to decide how the individual teachers are to be compensated.
— By Ralph Wiltse, Tribune community columnist