I've read a lot of posts and articles lately about teachers being evaluated by their students and having it count as a part of their formal evaluations. There is something appealing about having students take surveys on their teachers and I wish I could say I supported the idea, but frankly, when applied to teacher evaluations it makes me a bit queasy.
When I was a classroom teacher one of our guidance counselors conducted surveys with our students about how safe and happy our children felt in school. I loved the results she got from these surveys and even after she stopped the project I would ask her to come in and poll my class. The results told me so much about my own teaching and the environment I created for my class. Every summer I'd mull over the results and think about what I'd put into place that helped my class environment be strong and what I could do better the following year. Hearing what the kids thought led to some very powerful reflections.
My mother gave me the idea of asking students to write me a letter telling me one thing I could have done better and one thing I did well. It was hard to get them to reflect on what they would have changed to make our classroom better and I had to give them specific examples and the hard rule that they could NOT tell me that our room was perfect. For the most part I got a lot of "more recess" or "more games" but there were usually a few good comments mixed in with the "longer lunches". One student once told me she wanted more poems that didn't rhyme, another asked for more silly songs. One asked me to use a quieter voice when I was angry (how powerful is that?). I loved this exercise because it too taught me a lot about how my first graders saw my teaching.
But these surveys and letters were not a part of my evaluation. In some ways it would have been nice if they had been- for the most part they were positive and showed a happy, safe class environment. But let's be honest- they were from six and seven year olds. Most first graders LOVE their teachers. Even if they do not like school it is rare for them to not like the teacher as well. Of course, there are moments when they hate their teacher- especially immediately after they have been put into the "take a break" chair, or after they've been given an assignment that is "hard" and the teacher said, "I know you can do it, we can do hard things."
As a teacher it is not our job to be besties with our kids. We are the adults and we have to keep it that way for their safety and their education. If the surveys were a part of an official evaluation packet it would be easy to take the kids out to recess, give them Popsicles, play a few games and then hand out the survey. In those minutes everyone would think their teacher was the best. Alternatively, after giving a spelling assessment that kids deemed boring but was going to help inform critical instruction, kids would seem to be likely to rank their teachers lower.
I love the idea of giving children the surveys- I think it encourages them to become stake holders in their classroom environment and it is powerful feedback for teachers. But I do not think they should be considered as a part of teacher evaluations. Students' interest and academic intentions are not always the same thing and I think using student surveys as a method of reviewing teachers would open the door to unproductive teaching practices.