Teacher evaluation has long been a contentious issue, but changes negotiated in the 2018 DOE-UFT contract provide an opportunity to make the observation process the partnership it was meant to be.
To ensure that observations are meaningful, evaluators can no longer leave all their observations until the last minute. Instead they must conduct half of the minimum number of required observations in the fall term and half in the spring. For experienced teachers who have done well in the past, the minimum number of required observations has been reduced to two.
Other changes help as well. A fair observation process takes into account different classroom settings. The DOE has created and distributed tools and resources for evaluating teachers who work with students with disabilities or English language learners or teach the arts. If these resources have not been provided to you, alert your chapter leader. The professional learning team that developed the in-school training session is developing tools and resources for co-teachers, physical education teachers and others.
Teachers have several points of entry to assert their ownership of the evaluation process. The first point of entry is the new in-school training session, which you should have attended at the start of the school year. A professional learning team composed of UFT and DOE representatives developed the new training session, which principals and other evaluators were also required to attend so everyone is on the same page. At this session, you should have learned what effective observations look like and how they should be conducted. Professional development at your school will be tied to these observations, so getting it right is imperative. The goal is meaningful evaluation that facilitates your professional growth as an educator.
A second entry point is in the preparation for the initial planning conference, which must take place by the last Friday in October. At this conference, you meet with your evaluator to review your rating last year and discuss your approach to instruction and your professional contribution to the school community. You can inform your principal whether or not you would like to have observations videotaped, as well as which form of feedback — in-person, email or phone call — you prefer. The initial planning conference is also your opportunity to discuss any concerns you have with regard to students, curricula or needed instructional supplies.
Teachers can and should use the process as a tool of empowerment and professional growth. Only by owning the process can we control it and make sure evaluation works for us, not against us.
After the initial planning conference, observations for evaluation can begin. As in the past, informal observations last at least 15 minutes; formal observations must last for the full class period. But now, the timeline for feedback has been reduced from 15 days to just 10. That feedback can be given either in face-to-face conversation, by phone call or via email. Consider documenting all classroom visits, writing down your own reflections and sharing them with your evaluator. Owning the process requires your full participation in the conversation.
There is much more to know about the evaluation process. The UFT has created Your Guide to the Teacher Development and Evaluation System, which you can find in the evaluation section of the UFT website.
How can you make sure the teacher evaluation process lives up to its potential? Be prepared before the process begins and stay engaged at every step.