It’s that time of year again. As a department chair, I am tasked with providing an assessment of each member of the English faculty, noting a variety of issues as “excellent,” “proficient,” or “needs improvement.” It’s a challenging task. For one thing, I don’t get to spend very much time in their classrooms, as I stay quite busy with my own students and planning. For another, I recognize that we are all on a spectrum of ability… where does ‘proficient’ become ‘excellent’ (defined as “it would be difficult to do any better”)? Don’t we always think we can do something better? I want to praise my teachers, yet I know that I also need to prod them to strive for more. At our private academy, there is no room for mediocrity.
I also know that if I mark too many items as “needs improvement,” I can crush a younger teacher’s spirit, creating self-doubt. So finding that balance is tricky—I want to acknowledge the good, praise the great, and point out the not-so-good while encouraging him or her to see that there is hope for improvement.
Reflecting on my teacher evaluations makes me ponder whether I’m too cavalier sometimes in my student assessments. Teenagers are, if anything, more sensitive than my teachers. They need praise as well as guidance. I have found rubrics can be very helpful in this regard, as with appropriate forethought I can identify several areas likely to receive praise as well as focusing on a few new content or skill areas to assess.
One particular challenge in assessing student work is the short attention span they have for feedback; it’s not unusual for me to write all sorts of comments throughout an essay, only to watch the boys flip to the back and look at their ‘score,’ the grade, and be done. I may stop putting the final number on the paper and make them read the material I’ve written to find the grade buried somewhere in the notes!
An educator of 22 years, Andy Jobson has taught government, economics, and U.S. History. Currently teaching English literature at Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, GA, he’s also been an administrator, a STAR teacher twice, and taught elementary school with Teach for America.