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My Reflections on the Education Nation Teacher Town Hall

By Alycia Zimmerman on September 28, 2011
  • Grades: 3–5

Every year just before our December vacation, my school’s entire faculty takes a celebratory “field trip” to Rockefeller Center. We skate around the iconic rink and then feast at a nearby restaurant. Over dinner, we discuss our successes and challenges from the first semester and our goals for the second semester. I always leave with a deep appreciation for my creative, dedicated colleagues and a renewed enthusiasm for our profession. 

Every year just before our December vacation, my school’s entire faculty takes a celebratory “field trip” to Rockefeller Center. We skate around the iconic rink and then feast at a nearby restaurant. Over dinner, we discuss our successes and challenges from the first semester and our goals for the second semester. I always leave with a deep appreciation for my creative, dedicated colleagues and a renewed enthusiasm for our profession. 

This past Sunday, I visited the Rockefeller Center skating rink for another gathering of passionate educators, this time foregoing ice skates and a winter coat. Instead, I joined several hundred teachers in a tent for NBC’s Teacher Town Hall, the kickoff event for their weeklong Education Nation initiative. So many interesting ideas were explored during the two-hour freewheeling conversation, and I left just as inspired as I am after my school's December outing. Read on for my thoughts on just a few of the ideas we covered.


What Makes a Great Teacher?

Most of us teachers are used to being observed and rated by our principals or other administrators, but what if we were also rated by our students? According to Melinda Gates, students’ perceptions of their teachers are also an effective measure of teacher performance. Huh?! Alarm bells rang in my head as I imagined students championing the teacher who hands out the most stickers or watches the most football. However, Ms. Gates had plenty of research behind her claims.

Ms. Gates joined the discussion at the Teacher Town Hall to discuss the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) Project, among other things. The MET project is studying 3,000 4th through 8th grade teachers in six districts to determine the best ways to measure teacher effectiveness. Ms. Gates emphasized the need for multiple measures to assess teachers, not just value-added scores on state tests. She pointed to their findings that a teacher who is great one year will almost always be great the following year. She also discussed the finding mentioned above, that student opinions are generally predictive of teacher quality.

The MET project has actually pinpointed detailed questions to accurately gauge student perception about their teachers. Ms. Gates said that students can be asked questions like “Did your teacher help you learn what you missed on your homework?”; “Did your teacher know when he or she didn’t explain things well?” and “Does your teacher manage your classroom well?” These questions gave me pause. How would my students answer them? 

Effective teachers are reflective practitioners, and I find these questions useful in thinking about my own teaching. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has published the initial findings from the MET Project with 14 of the questions that they used with students. After I returned home from the Teacher Town Hall, I printed out these questions to keep on hand to help me evaluate my own teaching. 
 

Is Teaching a Profession or a Vocation? 

After a protracted discussion about teacher evaluation and compensation, the anchor Brian Williams summed up the many opinions by noting that everyone was asking for teaching to be viewed as a profession rather than a vocation. 

I left the Teacher Town Hall pondering this statement. I am certainly passionate in my defense of teaching as a profession and all that that entails. However, in my experience, teaching sometimes has a vocational quality as well. I am left wondering, can teaching possibly be both a profession and a vocation? Does one necessarily negate the other? Or can we admit that our nuanced, wide-ranging experiences as teachers can exist comfortably in both realms?

Get Involved!

Join the discussion! Add your voice to the national dialogue about education and teaching. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Scholastic, and DonorsChoose.org have joined forces to create the Teacher Wall, a virtual teacher town square where we teachers can share our stories, knowledge, and ideas. It is so inspiring to listen to other teachers candidly talk about their successes, challenges, and goals.

I wanted to join the conversation, too, so I submitted a video about my proudest moments as a teacher. It’s easy to create an account to add your own videos to the Teacher Wall. This is a great chance to contribute your experiences and insights. If you post something, share the link in the comments section below. I can’t wait to hear what you have to say! 

If you missed the Teacher Town Hall on Sunday, you can watch the Webcast on the Education Nation site. Tune in this week for the rest of the Education Nation programming, available on all of the NBC News platforms.

Comments (1)

If you really want to measure your teaching then you can create a survey like questions and can get answers for those questions from students as well as admin and staff and from that you can improve your teaching skills.

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