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Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | How To Judge a Teacher

How To Judge a Teacher

I recently saw a blog post shared on Facebook titled I’m One of the Worst Teachers in My State. It’s worth reading, but if you don’t have time, I’ll summarize it for you.
The name of Simone Ryals, a gifted education teacher in Florida will be printed in newspapers and posted online as “inferior and in need of serious improvement.” Why? Because her students did not score as many points on their fifth grade state test as they did when they took the fourth grade state test. Note: the fifth grade test is not the same as the fourth grade test. Note: standards and criterion changed between the two years and between the two grades. Note: her students scored in the superior range, just not necessarily with as many points as the year before.
This measure supposedly demonstrates that her students did not make adequate growth under her instruction. The teacher, Simone Ryals, explains this with an apt simile: It’s like expecting the members of an Olympic pole vaulting team to all individually earn gold medals every time the Olympics come around, regardless of any other factors affecting their lives, with the bar raised another five inches each go around. 

As a teacher of 25 years who has been required to prep students for a state test throughout most of my career, I know what Ms. Ryals is talking about. Our state test changes every year, so it is pretty much a moving target. We never see the test ahead of time; that would violate test security. And although Pennsylvania has not reached the point of printing teachers’ test scores in the newspaper, we’re headed that way. The state is rolling out a new program designed to track the test scores of every student and pin them to specific teachers.
How DO you judge a teacher?
Personally, I know I’m doing a good job when these things happen:
  • 10 of my students borrow or purchase the book WONDER to follow along as I read aloud or read ahead because they can’t wait to finish it.
  • One of my students writes a creative and funny introduction to his essay after my lesson on how to hook the reader.
  • A boy thanks me for keeping him for recess to re-do his work because he knows I’m trying to help him improve his grades.
  • A reader breaks into a discussion about tributary rivers because he’s just noticed that the root word is tribute and he wants to know what rivers have to do with the tributes in THE HUNGER GAMES.
  • The parents of an extremely shy student who never speaks in class tell me that she recaps my lessons at dinner every night.
  • A tough, streetwise student asks if he can write more on his story at home.
  • A boy with extreme anxiety issues smiles at me for the first time.
  • I get a note on Teacher Appreciation Day like the one in the picture above.

None of these things will ever be measured by a state test and are increasingly of less and less interest to the forces that judge teachers.
Twenty-five years ago, I became a teacher to teach students, not standards.
Some of you already know this, but there will be no twenty-sixth year for me. It’s not widely known in my community yet, but the board minutes detailing my retirement are posted, so it’s only a matter of time before everyone knows. I’m hanging up my teaching hat with a great deal of sadness, a little resentment for the changes that drove me to it, and gratitude that I am spending my final year with a wonderful group of students whose growth I will measure via the “standards” I listed above.
I don’t care how the state measures them.

14 Responses to How To Judge a Teacher

  1. mshatch says:

    You should send this to your local newspaper.

  2. Such a great post!! I want to send this to my aunt, a retired teacher, if I may??

    the problem with measuring teachers with tangible measures is that they miss the INTANGIBLE measures…

  3. Tiana Smith says:

    Teachers mean so much more than test numbers! I love the way you word it. Best of luck with your retirement and I hope it allows you to do what you love.

  4. Robin says:

    This makes me more than a little sad. I am not saying that after 26 years you aren’t due for a change, especially since your writing is requiring more time, BUT the fact that you liked teaching and the changes in the institution are at work here… that makes me sad. Pretty soon we won’t have any good teachers left. They will have all packed up and headed down another career path. We will have people who aren’t really interested in teaching, but meeting those standards. I can’t help but feel that our educational system is failing. Common Core is a disaster. Standardized testing is not serving the best interests of the student or the teachers. How could we be this far down the educational road and failing so miserably?

    I agree with mshatch. You should send this to your local newspaper. Maybe not right now. But when it is more widely known that you are retiring.

  5. I feel so bad for that teacher! And you as well- I know as a parent I would have loved to have someone of your caliber teaching my child.

  6. Linda G. says:

    This makes me sad, but I understand why you feel you must. What a shame that it has come to this–driving away good teachers in the name of producing little automatons who know how to take standardized tests.

  7. That’s really frustrating and I feel awful for that teacher. I’ve noticed a switch to even more intense testing in our current school. I hate that learning is geared to standardized testing and think it’s absolutely the wrong direction for education.

  8. J E Oneil says:

    Testing is getting absolutely out of hand. Putting kids in a situation where they’re told “You have to know everything or you won’t make it to the next grade and be ostracized by your peers” simply isn’t a good way to measure how students are doing. Nor is student performance a good way to measure how teachers are doing. It’s just having numbers to look at makes it easier to quantify, even if the answer it shows is completely wrong.

    I’m sorry to hear of your retirement because it sounds like you’re one of the good ones.

  9. Steven says:

    A good teacher is one who cares a great deal about the subject material and the students! It’s too bad these changes are causing the good teachers to flee. It’s a messed up system. The school by where I live made international news for hucking kids’ lunches, so yeah…

  10. Hi Dianne .. what a brilliant post – and I certainly would have benefited from a teacher such as you … but I hated tests and was ‘useless’ (something stuck somewhere .. ) – but I’m a late bloomer at what I have no idea … writing I hope, as I get my own act into gear.

    But your kids have a great chance of achieving much … and thank goodness the children over those 25 years have been able to learn with you, and probably through you as they progress on …

    Brilliant comments – and now on to writing full time .. and more encouragement to other writers through different mediums …

    Childhood is giving us rounded children … not tick boxes and percentages … well said .. and well done Mrs Teacher … enjoy these last (sad) times .. it will be difficult – but will offer you other outlooks … cheers Hilary

  11. Ugh. So hard to judge a teacher if going by testing – it drives me crazy. Personally, I have a very good sense of how much my child is going to learn if the teacher is communicating well and my child comes home happy and loved. Thanks for teaching Dianne, AND thanks for writing good books for our kids. I’m very excited for your new series, and I’m excited to click by on your site and read your interview with Therese Walsh – big fan from Writer Unboxed.

  12. Jemi Fraser says:

    Agreed!!! We have standardized testing here too – although it’s not as intense as in the States. It’s ridiculous how these snapshots of students’ lives are used to make major decisions and judgments. The things that are truly important are not measurable on a paper .. well except for the kind of paper you show in the pic. 🙂

  13. Crud. You brought tears to my eyes. You personify what a good teacher should be… and all your listed bullet points (especially that… sniff… letter) prove it. I’m sure you didn’t come to this decision easily, but it’s still very sad when a teacher of your caliber feels obliged to step down. I hope you realize how much of an impact you’ve made on each and every student you’ve taught over the past 25 years.

  14. Tess says:

    So sorry to hear that you’re retiring. My father taught for 33 years, and my brother is in the 20s somewhere. Testing is not the true measure of a teacher.