*** in Ontario teachers have to undergo an in-class review every five years by one of the school administration ***
The other day our six month pregnant one contract/LTO teacher was running around in a panic trying to get dodgey board laptops to work with dodgey board projectors on the dodgey board network. Her panic was the result of a VP coming into her class for her review. I’ve seen this happen with many teachers, young and old; the panic over admin coming in to review their teaching practices.
The stress of poor board technology practices aside, this review of teaching practices by admins bothers me on a couple of levels.
Back in the day, when I was in millwright training, my old Jamaican mentor told me the story of our department boss. He had a mechanical background, but he was incredibly lazy. His fame came from being able to slide under a truck and fall asleep on night shift for hours at a time. He was so bad at the work that the company had no choice but to promote him into management. I’ve since come to realize that this was a pretty pessimistic view of how managers become managers, but as an impressionable nineteen year old listening to a man who never told me a lie, it seemed the truth. I’ve always been cautious about management as a result, never assuming that they are somehow superior because of their title.
There is no doubt that leadership in education is a vital component, and we all hope that the people playing those administrative parts do it for all the right reasons (and not because they were such a disaster in the classroom that it was better for them to manage). What I don’t understand is why admin are mandated to come into a teacher’s class and somehow assess their ability to teach. What makes an administrator qualified to meaningfully review classroom teaching? Whether an administrator opted out of the classroom because they found it tedious, difficult or simply wanted a change, the simple truth is that they aren’t teaching, and in many cases didn’t for very long before they stepped into a management role. Asking them to review something they dropped after a short period of time seems… odd. Administrators are generally not master teachers.
I have no trouble with sharing my practice and would encourage teachers to experience each other’s classrooms at every possible opportunity, this isn’t about advocating for a closed classroom, and I’m not advocating for the removal of teacher in-class review, just who is doing it.
In most cases vice principals and principals take on these roles not because they were expert teachers, but because their interests lie elsewhere. This would suggest that teaching was never their strong suit. Taking on school leadership roles is a very heavy load, and I can appreciate the fact that some teachers want to put the classroom behind them and take that on; it’s important work and a great challenge. What I can’t understand is why those same people are now mandated to sit in on a teacher’s classes and review their teaching skills.
In the case of a new teacher, it seems like it might help and offer them a bit of mentorship in the process, but what about the case of the twenty five year veteran of the classroom? The master teacher who has not only survived but thrived in the role of teacher? How does a VP with five years in-class experience assess that? Do they even know what they’re looking at?
Those same veteran teachers are the most underused resource in education. Department headships, like VP and principal positions, are administrative, they offer little in the way of teaching focused career enhancement. Telling a senior teacher that this should be their focus isn’t honouring the expertise they have developed from years working with students actually teaching.
It might seem like a rather simple idea, but why don’t those senior teachers take on this role of in-class review and mentorship? Having a senior teacher from my own department drop in for a lesson and a talk would be instructive for me, demonstrate respect for their skills and allow expert teachers to express their mastery. It would also create a continuous sense of valid professional development within departments. Instead of a fairly pointless and closely monitored five year review by people who don’t even want to work in a classroom any more, how about an ongoing senior teacher review (20+ years in the classroom in order to take on that role).
The administrative arm of things does important work, but to say they have the experience and skill to determine what a front line teacher is doing right or wrong in a classroom is ridiculous. Instead of driving our senior teachers into administration as if that is the only opportunity for ‘advancement’, why not recognize mastery in a very challenging environment, and encourage those with that expertise to share what they know?