New teachers need real feedback

There’s always a lot of talk about teacher evaluation, but not so much about feedback, which is the heart of our enterprise. What is the point of evaluation if not to provide meaningful information about an individual’s strengths, weaknesses and growth? Unless you just want a reason to fire someone.

We would never assign students a project and return it with simply a score or letter grade. (My AP Macro students inquired last week about the average number of comments I put on an essay – one had counted 47 on his.)

We know our students need feedback, and we would be remiss if we didn’t provide it. But where is that mechanism for teachers?

The classic example right now is the edTPA. Teachers in 450+ licensure programs now must complete a major electronic portfolio of their practice teaching, which is submitted for “authentic assessment” of “complex skills,” according to the official edTPA website.

And then…. They never get it back. No thoughtful feedback, no feedback at all. Pass or fail – that’s all. I don’t know any young teacher who has ever seen their edTPA project again.

This might be the most authentic, well-designed project in the world, but without a feedback mechanism, it is close to pointless.

When new teachers get hired, they are then dropped into a system where an administrator, whose job also includes a variety of tasks like scheduling, discipline and parent communication, will observe them three times a year for about an hour each.

Compare that to China, where new teachers start with a part-time teaching load, spending the remaining time collaborating with colleagues, watching master teachers and getting intensive feedback on their developing skills.

Or New Zealand, where first-year teachers have 20 percent release time to observe other teachers and participate in professional development, according to a Stanford study. In Scandinavian countries, new teachers receive 2-3 years of graduate level preparation, including work in a “model school” and time to collaborate on curriculum.

We know teachers improve the most in their first 2-3 years in the classroom. We also know that the majority of U.S. teachers quit within five years, leaving many classrooms with a constant cycle of brand-new faces.

If we want to train effective teachers and keep them, we must focus more resources on those early years. We must provide new teachers with ongoing meaningful feedback on their skills. How else will we ever get better?