Evaluating teachers a different way

So much attention is focused today on identifying the best teachers.  But the effort has been placed almost exclusively on test scores.  I don’t doubt they are important, but they don’t tell the whole story, as I wrote in an op-ed in the New York Daily News (“Judge teachers using so-called intangibles: They matter as much or more than test scores,” Dec. 5).

Long after subject matter is forgotten, students remember the interest and kindness that their teachers showed in them.  There are teachers who do a remarkable job teaching their subject well, but who teach their students to hate the subject in the process.  That’s a pyrrhic victory, especially if the goal is to create lifelong learners.

How teachers go about bonding with their students is largely a matter of personality.  In medicine, it’s called a bedside manner.  Some teachers are naturals in this regard, while others can be taught – but only up to a point.  Non-cognitive outcomes can be measured by Likert inventories.  These consist of a series of questions, to which student anonymously reply, say, on a five-part scale.  For example, “Doing math no longer causes me to feel anxious.”  Or “I like to read a novel more now than I did before.”

It’s time to pay more attention to affective outcomes than before if students are to receive a quality education.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

2 Replies to “Evaluating teachers a different way”

  1. Fine to in effect poll students re their subjective reactions to having taken a course from a teacher. Not sure how much weight to give the responses in evaluating the teacher. Aside from the obvious concern that easy-grading or otherwise non-demanding teachers will get better student ratings than the more demanding teachers, there’s the related problem of the halo effect whereby teachers with a reputation as great teachers will get better student ratings and teachers with a reputation as bad teachers will bet a worse student rating. I realize that the Likert inventory is more sophisticated than a simple poll, but I’m pretty sure that a lot of the students taking the inventory will figure out which response gives the teacher a good rating and which does not. Looking back on my personal experience, I’m sure that at the end of 7th grade, I would have said negative things about my English teacher (who was demanding and had a reputation as a boring/tough teacher) but as an adult I would have said very positive things (because I realized that she really taught me a lot about how to write effectively).

    As I’ve argued in other comments, the key to generating reliable teacher evals is providing a first-line supervisor for the teacher to write the evals.


  2. Labor Lawyer: My point is that student input should be included in evaluating teachers. It is not a substitute for other factors. Critics will argue that including such data makes teaching a popularity contest. But I think that attitudes toward material taught can make students lifelong learners.


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