By William Lewis
During the last few weeks, we have heard a lot about instituting a public school teacher evaluation system in New York state and especially in New York City.
Our student populations are not performing as had been anticipated, and increasingly the blame seems to be falling on teachers from the standpoint that their teaching is ineffective.
It was not too long ago that the school teacher and the police officer were considered the linchpins that held society together. We were encouraged to show them respect as they worked to maintain our social order. Today, the members of these professions are periodically being blamed for society’s ills.
In the teaching profession, the term “bad teacher” is being used more frequently to denote teachers whose students are not performing up to established standards. One editorial even used the expression “rotten teacher.” Such references have the effect of encouraging disrespect for our teachers and making it more difficult for them to perform their duties.
This constant emphasis on blaming the teacher for learning deficiencies in the student population is having an impact, especially on New York City teachers. During the last 10 years in the city, thousands of teachers have retired or resigned from their positions.
Regarding recent city high school graduates, almost 80 percent of whom could not do college-level work, it is time for the entire system to be evaluated, not just teachers.
It seems that high school students are continually being encouraged to go to college whether they are prepared or not. College standards of achievement are being undermined when some college classrooms in the city have more than 40 students. Sometimes half of them are not serious students. When a high percentage of new college students are continually absent or late to class, in addition to not being prepared for class instruction besides not showing up for examinations or not turning in research papers on time, these things create a difficult situation for instructors. Such situations are also not helpful for college students who are prepared and trying to conform to their college educational standards.
College is not for everyone. Not all teenage students have the interest, desire or learning ability to study college-related academic subjects. As I have indicated in past columns, it would be better for our educational establishment to consider a return to the vocational high schools of the past that were prevalent during the 1950s and ’60s.
These high schools taught academic subjects in the mornings and trades in the afternoon, like carpentry and electrician skills. This type of school would provide high school graduates with much-needed skills that would be useful in the job market. It would be more productive in terms of money spent on education by the state and city Boards of Education. It would give education a more practical application.
It would cut down on the criticism of the teaching profession. This constant preoccupation with teacher evaluation would be lessened. The judging of teaching ability is only part of the problem.
The question then is what type of teacher evaluation Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have in mind. The system of evaluation that is used in various colleges, where students once a semester evaluate their instructors’ teaching, would not be suitable for high schools, much less middle schools.
In a significant number of cases, college students who are doing well give their instructors a good evaluation. Students who are doing poorly, however, do not give a satisfactory evaluation to their instructors.
Our political leaders, especially the governor and mayor, should be mindful of the fact that respect for the teaching profession is important in a successful educational system.