Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Teacher Observations: Principals vs. the Union

By on May 24, 2008

Teacher Magazine has an article today about Idaho’s progress in developing a standardized teacher evaluation that could be a stepping stone for developing an acceptable pay-for-performance legislature. The article didn’t get me thinking so must about the concept of a standardized teacher evaluation that might be more effective then our current process.  I mean, let’s face it, what’s the controversy?  We all know it should be a better process.  

But it did get me thinking about an incident that happened last year at my school where the union was brought in to protect a teacher from being observed beyond the allowed contracted hours after complaints had been waged against the teacher.  

The situation, as I know it, is that teachers are to be observed twice during their observation year (which occurs every other year).  Our principal, after conducting his observations, decided that he needed to continue watching and evaluating a particular teacher.  After wandering into the classroom and conducting more formal and informal evaluations, the principal was then accused by the teacher and the union of breaking the teacher’s contract.  

I understand that the rule exists to avoid harassment, to ensure that a principal isn’t being disruptive in his/her frequent visits in an attempt to intimidate a teacher that he/she may not like; but how can a principal do their job of elevating the quality of their staff if they are not allowed to create the paper trail necessary to remove a thorn?    

Now, as I’ve said in my previous post, “A Bad Teacher is not Tenure’s Fault,” despite the difficulty, getting rid of a bad teacher is still a hurdle that the administrator must jump over; however, does not the union also have a responsibility to protect the school as well as the teachers within it?  

In the Teacher Magazine article, they mention that a yearly observation would be necessary to evaluate teachers in order to entertain future salary possibilities.  In a situation as the one listed above, even a yearly observation is not enough to determine the quality of a teacher effectively.  

Sure it’s nice to know when you don’t have to be observed in your off year, but what other career protects its employees like that?  And while we are protecting the employees, are we not, potentially, allowing mediocrity, or worse, to escape evaluation?

I don’t understand some teachers’ suspicion of observations.  No, I take that back.  I know the teacher that brought the union in to make sure that the principal didn’t observe him more than his required time.  If I were that guy, I’d be worried that my naptimes would be busted too.  


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