Last month the National Education Association approved a policy statement on teacher evaluation that is a vital departure from its previous position. Highlighting the importance of teacher evaluations in ensuring teaching quality and student success, the NEA -- of which the Memphis Education Association is an affiliate -- called for thorough, consequential teacher evaluations and cracked open the door to measurements of teachers' impact on student learning.
Memphis City Schools is already well on its way. As new, more rigorous evaluation plans are negotiated across the country, districts would be wise to follow its lead. MCS is in the process of implementing a bold new Teacher Effectiveness Measurement -- a plan that was created with teacher involvement in every step of the process.
I love teaching, and I hold myself to standards that are as high as my expectations for my students at Craigmont High School. But under Memphis' old evaluation system, I have been observed as part of the evaluation process only once since I earned tenure six years ago. And no one has ever included a measure of my students' learning in my evaluation. Teachers can never stop honing our craft, and we want to know how we can do even better for our students.
That is why I joined the working group that helped to design the new teacher evaluation system. The measure we created incorporates student growth data, classroom observations, student feedback and a measure of teachers' content knowledge -- and has the potential to raise the bar for Memphis' teaching force. Our new system will require regular feedback, ensuring that all teachers get the support we need to improve.
Even before Tennessee won federal funding through the Race to the Top program, Memphis began work on a new initiative to improve the quality of teaching in our district. Unlike many districts, which produce such plans behind closed doors, Memphis engaged teachers all along the way. Memphis City Schools polled teachers and included us in the design working group. Three teacher observation tools were piloted in 500 classrooms across the district. Then, with the help of the teacher leadership organization and Memphis City Schools' partner organization Teach Plus and its live-polling technology, the district solicited feedback from the working group and the teachers whose classrooms were observed, and selected the most useful tool.
Teachers also decided how much the system would emphasize classroom observations versus student feedback and teacher knowledge. The result is a better plan -- one that reflects teachers' real work and ensures significant impact on students' success.
Just as with any change, there will be some skepticism early on. But I believe that a plan that was generated by and for teachers will earn their trust. Because the district engaged teachers and our teachers' association throughout, we are much more likely to strive to meet the important goals set forth -- and less likely to view evaluations as a hammer hanging over our heads.
The fact that the district included front-line educators in the process demonstrates that the district respects the contributions teachers can make to education reform. In a time when teachers are being mischaracterized and belittled, that is powerful. Watching the nation's largest teachers' union embrace rigorous teacher evaluation, and my school district leading the way in including an authentic teacher voice in decision making, I see a door to positive change swinging open.
-- Aimee Cothran
Aimee Cothran is an advanced placement math teacher at Craigmont High School, and a teaching policy fellow with Teach Plus. She is also one of our featured teachers as part of the I teach. I am campaign