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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia. He holds a Ph.D. with a specialization in elementary education from the University of South Florida. His...
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Expecting Teachers to Meet Minimum Standards: A Recipe for Mediocrity and Possible Failure

Depending on the school district and state, teachers are often evaluated for their performance in the classroom. These evaluations might include a formal observation by the principal or assistant principal and another observation, possibly a “pop in” later in the school year.  During this evaluation process, a teacher is judged by whether they meet certain expectations or criteria in various areas of teaching. For example, a teacher might be scored on how well he or she manages the students’ behaviors or their ability to ask questions and generate meaningful discussions.

I think we error in education when aiming for minimum competency standards established on these evaluation tools. I will use my experience to make the point. When I supervise student teachers, I am required to use what’s called the Danielson Teaching Framework. This tool is a scoring rubric divided into four domains of teaching: planning, classroom management, instruction, and professional development, with more than 20 components falling within those domains. Teachers are assessed in each component, from progressing to exemplary. The general idea is for teachers to score at least “accomplished” in each area.

The problem with this approach is we are training teachers to aim at a level just enough to be considered competent for the classroom.  Sure, this demonstrates they are pretty solid in their skills. However, in my experience, when you aim for something, you often fall a little short.

It’s not uncommon for teachers-even those with years of experience-to receive one or more “progressing” scores. A better approach might be to push them to achieve the highest marks (exemplary), then, if and when they fall short, they land within an accomplished range of expectations. In a best-case scenario, the teachers hit their mark and are now operating at the highest levels. Even if they don’t reach the highest marks, they have pushed themselves to become better and will be higher performing in various areas. Teachers aiming for excellence should not be discouraged if they come little shy of that goal. In the end, they are better teachers because of it.

I’m sure if you ask parents whether they want an excellent teacher or a “good” or “average” teacher for their child, the answer will be obvious. What I’m recommended is grounded in the old adage, “aim for the starts and you may land on the moon.” Let’s set the highest goals for our teachers, provide the support structures they need (that’s the topic of another blog), and really go for it.