Note: In this post, Stu Singer, a forty-year veteran math teacher, dispels that claim that “anyone can teach.”
By Stuart Singer, The Master Teacher
“The problem with experience is that it can only be acquired through, well, experience.”
In a recent post Mel Riddile explained the position of the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) on the use of assessments based on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in teacher evaluation. The message was based on common sense—it would be a major miscalculation to rush into employing these tools until they have been carefully studied and proven to be accurate measures of achievement. A follow up piece detailed why many teachers share a similar point of view. But while a plan using such untested methods to determine effectiveness would be negative for all teachers it is critical to note that it would be particularly damaging for those new to the profession.
More than just semantics
Many people are born with an outstanding talent for communicating that allows them to flourish in education. Others have immense dedication that rewards them with great success in working with students. But the one component required for continual growth as a teacher is classroom experience. And the problem with experience is that it can only be acquired through, well, experience.
I have worked with many individuals in their first or second year who have done remarkable work in the classroom. But with each passing year every one of them significantly improved at their craft. Consequently, I have always believed the following:
There are great first-year teachers but no one in their first-year is a great teacher.
Okay, perhaps a bit of clarification is in order. During a discussion on this topic one classroom veteran told me “After my twenty-ninth year of teaching I was still making changes in my approach for year thirty. You must keep looking and learning. Your teaching is never a finished product. If you think it is, it’s time to start checking out retirement.” These sentiments were reinforced by others. Numerous outstanding educators shared that one of the most important keys to classroom success is patience and self-evaluation. Their advice was consistent—implement change slowly, carefully but consistently. It is how great young teachers become great teachers.
A dangerous approach
The job of educating involves constant reevaluation and retooling of strategies and approaches. The process of developing young teaching talent is a particularly delicate one. While outstanding veteran teachers improve every year, the trajectory of that development is exponentially greater in the first years on the job. There is little doubt that most highly successful teachers would shudder if they viewed videos of their work in the initial years of their career. Sadly, these vocational stumbles are one of the primary causes of so many people leaving the profession within the first five years.
It is precisely for that reason that the implementation of any assessments into teacher evaluation must be done at a realistic pace. One of the greatest weaknesses of the current educational system is the failure to ease new teachers into a full schedule. To the contrary the typical first-year hire has to deal with the same number of classes as a twenty-year veteran. Making matters worse they frequently have to work with some of the most challenging (and undesirable) courses often without the benefit of having their own classroom. If an unfair or poorly designed evaluation process is mixed into the equation, it quickly becomes clear that the likelihood of highly positive evaluations is remote for these beginners. The next steps are both predictable and potentially disastrous.
At the very time in their career when teachers need reassurance and assistance they will potentially be facing additional negative scrutiny resulting from unfair assessments. As a consequence too often great first-year teachers may leave before they can become truly great. The opinion of NASSP on CCSS assessments is the right one for all teachers. But their views are especially important for the least experience members of every faculty.