Archive for February 12, 2010

Measuring the longterm impact of a teacher

When I was in 5th grade (early 1970’s), growing up in Detroit, my gym teacher taught us to play soccer, which was then a weird foreigner’s game.  It wasn’t commonly taught in the Midwest — my friends at other schools weren’t learning it at the same time.  I loved playing soccer, though. I was never any good, but I looked for opportunities to play.

When my kids were old enough, we’d play little games of soccer.  All three of my kids played local club soccer.  I coached the girls’ teams when they were really young — I said I was willing to coach until they reached the age where they’d keep score, because I knew nothing about being good at soccer.  When we took the family on summer study abroad in England, we played soccer every night on the nice College fields, for hours.  This week, I went to my ninth grader’s first varsity soccer team meeting.  She’s only a freshman, but she’s good enough to play on her high school’s varsity team. My kids like soccer and are pretty good at it.  (Admittedly, I’m biased, and proud. 🙂

I don’t remember much of my fifth grade gym teacher.  I don’t remember her name, and vaguely remember what she looked like.  However, she had an impact on me.  Almost 40 years later, has she had an impact on my children?  If so, it’s an indirect impact. Maybe my kids would have played just as much soccer had that teacher not got me interested in soccer.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that my kids playing soccer was due to my interest in playing soccer, which was due to my 5th grade teacher introducing me to soccer and inculcating a lifelong interest in it.  We would say that that gym teacher was successful.  That is the kind of outcome we hope for elementary school education, to teach children the basics of an area and give them a lifelong interest in that area.

How do you measure that?  How do you reward a teacher now for something that might happen decades down the road?  Could I have been tested in 5th grade for whether or not I had that kind of interest?  Can we really measure the intensity of an interest to last for nearly 40 years?  Let me make clear — I’m not a soccer fanatic.  I enjoy playing it, and I like to watch it when I get the chance.  I have never been passionate about it (e.g., I never watch soccer at home).  Could we have measured my gym teacher’s success 40 years later with an instrument 40 years ago?

When I was an education graduate student, one of the professors said that being a teacher is like being a CEO.  Your best and most important decisions could only be evaluated 20 years down the road.  How do we evaluate teacher merit now for longterm impact?

February 12, 2010 at 11:30 am 1 comment

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