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John H. Wilson: How do you assess teacher proficiency?

  • Published Friday, May 2, 2014, at 6:17 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, May 5, 2014, at 10:43 a.m.

I contend that there is not a single Kansas legislator who is qualified to accurately assess the overall proficiency of a public school teacher. Yet lawmakers passed and Gov. Sam Brownback signed legislation to deny teachers due process upon being dismissed.

My own experiences as one charged with observing, providing feedback and aiding in the determination of a classroom teacher’s relative level of expertise, dating over five decades, are convincing. Though there is no “typical” public school instructor, a few examples of the challenges facing teachers may be helpful in supporting this argument.

Virtually every class of students will include more than one “special-needs” learner – students who are slower, accelerated, behavior-challenged, physically disabled (hearing, visual, mobility) or have social-skills deficiencies. Any one of these students will require a teacher to exercise a very special talent, and the attention and energy demanded by the teacher may be counterproductive to the academic performance of the other students. How does an observer measure this without input from the teacher?

The curriculum (all of the experiences of the learner for which the school assumes responsibility) is far greater than the academics focused by annual testing results. Try to imagine how a young learner is motivated by a teacher to view the schooling experience as a prime avenue to career success. When is a teacher credited for instilling this invaluable attitude?

Social development, too often given short shrift in many children’s homes, falls within the enormous purview of classroom teachers’ responsibilities; lack of these basic skills will prove detrimental to an entire class’s performance. Is the teacher the lone agent who should be held responsible for this negative influence upon a room full of students?

Sound values, important guiding principles, virtues prized in our culture, and productive decision-making are consciously blended within a day’s contact with students. Now, tell me these are not important, then explain how students’ continuing development within these powerful domains can be assigned as credits or deficiencies within a teacher’s overall performance.

What is suggested here, with this quite limited identification of the greater task expected of classroom teachers, leads me to seriously question a decision to deny them due process upon being dismissed for what may be an arbitrary rationale.

Any classroom teacher charged with incompetence, leading to dismissal, deserves a comprehensive hearing wherein the greater profile of competency is aired. Without this assurance, our profession will suffer from a diminishing pool of teaching applicants, translating to unnecessary hardships that will be experienced by the innocent, the students.

John H. Wilson is a professor emeritus of education at Wichita State University.

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