Despite the fact that a teacher rarely has a minute to herself, teaching can be a lonely business. Time to connect with colleagues is hard to come by. And one-on-one time with a supervisor is often even more rare. “My principal comes by my classroom for fifteen minutes, once a year,” said one high school teacher. “How is that supposed to give him a real understanding of my performance?”
Teachers would like more opportunities for classroom observations and feedback from supervisors and peers, according to a recent survey released by Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
According to Primary Sources: America’s Teachers on the Teaching Profession, teachers would like peer review to happen more than twice as much as it currently does. Only one in three teachers are in schools where peer reviews are done, while 81 percent of surveyed teachers said peer review should happen at least annually. “Observing our colleagues is a great way to affirm our abilities and remind us why we chose teaching in the first place,” explained one elementary teacher in Denver. "It would be nice if there was more collaboration.”
Teachers also said assessments of their content-area knowledge should happen more frequently. Two in three teachers surveyed said such assessments should happen at least annually, but only a quarter of teachers work in schools where they happen at all. “I wish I were being tested on my content knowledge,” said one high school teacher who was surveyed. “I’d happily be judged by it.”
Teachers also value the opportunity to show principals and other administrators what goes on in their classroom. How often principals cross the threshold, however, varies widely from one school to the next. Three in 10 teachers reported that their principal observes their classroom at least three times a year, if not monthly. Four in 10 said that observation happens at most yearly.
But as more states mandate and systematize teacher evaluation, the era of the closed classroom door may be waning. Georgia, for example, now requires administrators to complete two 30-minute visits to a teacher's classroom during the year: one announced and one unannounced. (Teachers also do self-evaluations.) In addition, the state has now added four unannounced walk-throughs lasting five to 15 minutes and occurring every 9 weeks.
While some teachers are wary of interference, 95 percent support classroom observation by their principal and eight in 10 support peer observation and review. For some teachers, the open door has become more than policy, it’s a philosophy.
“There are constantly people in and out of my room watching lessons and offering feedback. We are given opportunities to watch other teachers teach while the administration provides cover," explained one elementary teacher. “It's such an enormous help to see how someone else teaches or manages their classroom.”
Now in its fourth year, Primary Sources surveyed 10,000 educators from all 50 states to learn first-hand how teachers perceive their classrooms, their profession, and the future of education. To download the full Primary Sources report, or take the survey, visit the Primary Sources website.