Thousands of teachers, administrators, coaches, guidance counselors, and parents descended on the Fort Worth, Texas Convention Center November 17-20 for the 38th Annual Conference of the National Alliance of Black School Educators (NABSE). Designed to bring together educators and parents of the African Diaspora from across the nation and the world, attendees traveled from as far as Nova Scotia, Canada and West Africa.
On Saturday, November 20, the US Department of Education hosted a teacher roundtable to hear directly from educators their views about the nation’s education system and ED policy. Though the roundtable included teachers from a diversity of experiences, content areas, and regions, several shared themes became quickly apparent.
Ending High-Stakes Testing. One interesting observation made by several veteran educators was that the overwhelming emphasis on test scores in the past decade has eroded the tendency for many teachers to share best practices and serve as the informal mentors that so many new teachers desperately need. Instead, teachers find themselves in competition with each other over whose test scores will be better. They expressed hope and optimism that the new focus on growth in President Obama’s Blueprint for Reform will rekindle the spirit of cooperation that has been lost over the last decade. When teachers can focus on making sure that every child is moving in the right direction rather than worrying about whether their students are outperforming the students in the classroom next door, we will have a system that fosters growth and development for teachers and, most importantly, for students, they said.
Developing Authentic Teacher Evaluations. Another common thread from the roundtable discussions was the need for effective systems of evaluation. Though it may be surprising to some, teachers in the room actually expressed a desire for more methods of evaluation, not less. A twenty-seven-year veteran of the classroom recalled that during her tenure, “A lot of my colleagues said, ‘… you ought to be glad [that no one has come to observe you in a long time]’ and I thought, no – I’m not glad because I’m not perfect and I need to see [things] from somebody else’s perspective…”
It was extremely evident throughout the roundtable discussion that true professional educators who care about improving their craft and student outcomes are hungry for evaluation systems that consist of more than mere checklists, which result in an “S” or “U.”
Speaking as a New York teacher, this is perhaps the most critical facet in the current push for education reform. Far too many of the “bad” teachers that are maligned in the media are simply caring and dedicated individuals who need proper guidance to improve. States must develop evaluation systems that give teachers the feedback necessary to make teachers better. The President’s Blueprint includes plans for developing and supporting teachers, and I am hopeful that Congress will include them in plans to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Childhood Education Act.
Jemal H. Graham
Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow
Jemal Graham teaches math in Brooklyn, NY.