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Cassie is not a fan of evaluations, and she is ready to tell you all the reasons why. Listen to her experiences and opinions as she talks about the cyclical nature of teacher evaluations over the years (7:45), how she handles evaluation scores and discussions with her administration (11:30), and then gives some suggestions as to better ways to improve yourself as a teacher (14:00). Full episode transcript below.
About seven years ago, I walked in to my school faculty meeting. You know, the back to school faculty meetings where everybody’s hugging and catching up, and all that jazz, and it was great. It all came to a screeching halt when our admin informed us that this year, the state of Tennessee, where I live, would be rolling out a brand new evaluation policy. This evaluation policy would include all teachers, at least three times a year, and newbies were going to be evaluated, I believe it is six times a year. There was a whole new process and system. As they passed around a three pound binder to each and every teacher, for us to read, cover to cover, back to front … front to back, you know what I’m saying, all about this new policy, you could suddenly feel the joy that had once been in the room quickly drain out of it.
I kid you not when I tell you that there were seasoned teachers who literally started crying, teachers whose anxiety started to rise. You could suddenly feel the mood go from happy to panic mode. As we started to cover the new evaluation policy, there were teachers who literally got up and left. Teachers who eventually retired, because this new evaluation policy had them freaking out so much. I remember sitting there and thinking … And at that point I had been teaching for, probably, I don’t know, 12 years. I remember looking around the room and thinking, “What is the big deal y’all? It is an evaluation. It is not going to increase my pay or decrease my pay, or at least not at my school in the state of Tennessee, in my district.”
It wasn’t initially going to get me fired, or get me promoted. I mean, getting promoted, is that even a thing? I mean, we are art teachers, so we already have the top job in the school. And I just sat there and thought, “Man, who cares?” I’m here to tell you today why I think evaluations are a crock, and how you can better yourself as a teacher in other ways. Your evaluation score is not your score as an art educator. I’m going to rant today, and we’re going to talk about it. And this is probably not a podcast that you want to be listening to when your admin’s around. Definitely won’t be sharing this one with mine. I’m Cassie Stephens, and this is Everyday Art Room.
Now, y’all know I love to tell stories, and I’m going into my 20th year of teaching, so I’m filled with stories, and amongst other things. So, let me just tell you about my very first experiences with evaluations, as a new teacher. Because it’s drastically different, and unfortunately, not nearly as great as it once was. I remember one of my first evaluations was when I still taught in Nashville. I remember my principal, he came in late, he came in carrying his cafeteria tray of lunch food, which he managed to spill nearly all of that on to my desk. I don’t even know if he took notes, he just sat there noisily eating his lunch while we just went about our business.
It cracked me up, because I, of course, being one of my first evaluations, had stressed about it. And just seeing him being relaxed, enjoying his lunch, enjoying his time in my room. Later on, when we chatted about it, he told me how much fun he’d had in my room and enjoyed watching the kids. He was like, “Yeah, good job, Stephens.” I thought, “Wow, this is pretty much what an evaluation should be about.” When I moved to my current school, which is in Franklin, Tennessee, this was still about 15 years ago. My principal there was an older principal, she was probably in her late 60s. She’d taught for many years, had been an administrator for many years, and was one of the most very firm, but very kind hearted people that I’d ever met.
She took beautiful handwritten notes the entire time. Got up, walked around, chatted with the students. I just really felt like she was on my side, she was on the side of finding joy in my room, and joy in what the kids and I were doing. I remember sitting down and chatting with her, she handed me her purple page full of beautifully handwritten notes, and I cherished it. Because while she had some criticisms, she definitely had some wonderful things to say. I remember walking out of that evaluation feeling inspired, light on my feet, and happy with what I was doing with my students, and what they were doing in my art room.
Fast forward to now, and the evaluation process looks a lot different. Now, granted, evaluations are different from state to state. What I’m about to say may not ring true with you, but it’s how the evaluations go down in the state of Tennessee. And it’s not like it’s regulated by school to school, it’s a state mandate, I guess. I try not to know too much about it, because I find the whole process to be, as I stated earlier, a crock. So, now, my admin, whom I love, let me just throw that out there, just in case you’re listening. Seriously, though, I do love my administration. They come in, and they have a tablet. They sit near the back of the room, and they type on that tablet the entire time.
Pretty sure that they’re typing verbatim, everything I say, because when we go over the evaluation, they’re able to tell me exactly everything I’ve said, which is kind of frightening. That’s pretty much it. There’s literally no interaction with the students. They are just like, I guess, a fly on the wall, but not a very nice fly. One that just feels like a grim reaper kind of presence, who’s sitting there just typing away everything that you are saying, and probably not saying. Because you’re not using all that goofy verbiage that we’re supposed to use, “You didn’t manage to jump through the 27 hoops you were supposed to jump through in the 30 minutes of your art class.” You kind of tell how I feel about this evaluation process.
So, those are my experiences with evaluation. Obviously, my heart is with the one that actually feels more genuine, more connected. And like I said, it’s to no fault of my admin, it’s mandated by my state. Here’s what I’ve learned through my 20-ish years, going into my 20th year of teaching as an art teacher. There is always something new that they roll out, usually at the start of the year, that’s always, especially if you’ve taught for a couple of years, going to seem strangely familiar. What I mean by that is, is that I feel like educational policies and the way that those people who have been out of the classroom, for years and years and years, and suddenly know exactly how to teach, I feel as though everything is cyclical.
It all goes around in a big circle, and the only thing that changes is the verbiage. And let me just say this, when you’re sitting in those back to school meetings, especially you brand new teachers out there, try your hardest not to feel overwhelmed by all the brand spanking new words, and all the new policies that are going to feel different or sound different from what you learned in college. Let me tell you this, it’s not all that different. Every year, there’s new buzzwords. In fact, I was just googling buzzwords, educational buzzwords, and so many websites popped up. In fact, there’s even one called Educational Buzzwords Bingo, hilarious! Tell me if any of these sound familiar. Differentiated instruction, social emotional learning, common core, higher order thinking skills, scaffolding. Scaffolding, scaffolding. Assessment out the wazoo, peer assessment.
I mean, those are just to name a few. I’m not saying they’re not important, I’m not saying they don’t have a place. But I’m just saying that it’s stuff that, in your heart, you already know, and you already know how to do. It’s always great to continue learning, to find out more, to dig deep into some of those, especially if you’re not quite as familiar. But the thing that I feel drives a lot of teachers out of the classroom is this stuff, these, quote, scare tactics. These new things that they throw your way. You know what words I feel like we never hear, the words that are never rolled out? Fun, joy, laughter, those three things are what really equals learning. The reason you’re not going to hear those words is because they don’t make money.
The educational system is a huge money making machine. If they stop rolling out all of these buzzwords and all of these new methods, quote unquote, new ways to teach, then they’re going to stop making money. So, when you start to feel overwhelmed by that, just know that, number one, these things are coming from a money making machine. Two, these things are coming from people who may not have ever even taught, and if they aren’t currently teaching, why not? What got them out of teaching in the first place? Did they not really have a heart for it? And if that’s the case, should they be telling you what to do in your room? I told you, this was going to be a rant. I feel like after 20 years of teaching, I can do my share of ranting. Am I starting to sound like a crutch, the old lady? Maybe.
But what makes me so sad in my heart is when I see teachers, art teachers in particular, who are working their tails off to give everything they can to their students. And when they go in and they sit down for their evaluation scores, those scores just don’t match up to the job that they feel is so, or they know as though they’re doing in the art room. To me, that’s just not fair. When I sit down with my administrators and we go over my scores, they know me a little too well, we’ve worked together for a very long time. And because I have told them such, they now know that my scores, they don’t mean much to me.
Because when we go over my scores … And I almost always am lacking in questioning. Apparently, that’s not a hoop that I jump through enough, it’s a box I don’t manage to tick. I have 30 minute art classes, I don’t spend a lot of time asking my students 27 questions, just because my goal, I feel as though, is to get them in their seats, imagining and creating. My number one goal. The questions, in my mind, take place when they are at their seats working and creating, “Should I use this color, or should I use that? Is this shape the best one for the composition, or is this one?” Those are the questions I feel as though they should be asking themselves, “Is that working?” But, I’m getting off topic.
When I do sit down and go over the scores with my administrator, and she says, “Okay, Stephens, you got a three on questioning, can you tell me some ways that you use questioning so we can improve the score?” And I just say, “Nah. Nah. What does improving the score going to do? Tell me where to sign my name, because I have stuff to do in my room.” Y’all, an improved score, this is my reasoning behind it, “Am I getting a raise? No. Am I going to get a pay cut? No. Am I going to get fired? Quite possibly, if my scores are really bad, and bad continuously.” But, for me, no. “Am I going to get some sort of a promotion? No. So, just tell me where to sign, because …” I’m going to say something where I want all administrators, if they’re listening, to put their ear muffs on. You guys, you’re being evaluated by a person who doesn’t know anything about art education.
I mean, it’s a rare administrator who was once an art teacher, am I right? So, you’re being evaluated by a person who probably has experience as a classroom teacher, and they’re approaching your room that way. Who is the expert on art education in your building? You are. Therefore, the person who is telling you whether or not you’re doing your job correctly, doesn’t know. They don’t know what it is that you do, they have not had all the education that you’ve had. Now, I’m not saying that you should just toss aside any kind of criticisms, or things that your principals tell you. Because there are a lot of benefits from being evaluated. You can really learn a lot about yourself, and you can make changes for the better. However, this new evaluation system, where it’s a lot of hoop jumping and box ticking, I don’t feel as though is as beneficial and improving yourself as a teacher as other methods.
So, let’s talk about that. All of us want to be a better art teacher. We all want to do our best for our students, that’s why we go in to school every single day, right? We want to give our kids the most fun learning experience that we possibly can, and we want to do our best job at it. So, how do we do that? Aside from just looking at our evaluation score and using that as some way of judging if we’re doing a great job. Here’s what I would suggest, go and observe other teachers in your building. Other teachers in your building whose students, year after year, their classes are consistently well behaved, respectful, kind, great listeners, good learners. It’s not a coincidence that there are certain teachers in your building who, year after year, have a really good class.
If you’re a teacher who stopped for a little while, you begin to put that together. “Mrs. So and So, she’s really got it together, because I know that her kids are going to be amazing.” Well, that’s not magic, that’s not happening by accident. Seek those teachers out and just ask them, during your plan time, or whenever, if you can go and observe them, granted they’re not going to teach the same topic as you. But there’s always a chance for you to learn something from them. There’s always a way for you to change up what they’re doing, maybe a behavior policy, or a way of them grouping their students. Something that you can take away and imagine it in your art space, and apply it.
I really can’t stress going and evaluating other teachers in your school enough. Of course, if you have other art teachers in your district, teachers who you just want to be a fly on the wall. I mean, I would love to come and hang out all day in other art rooms, just to see how other art classrooms are run. If you can do that, reach out to anybody. Go visit as many other art teachers as you can. I feel like that is really going to be the best PD that you could possibly have, and a way for you to improve yourself as a teacher.
If you can’t do either of those things, or you just don’t have time, one thing that I love doing, that is a little bit difficult to watch, record yourself. Record yourself teaching a class from top to bottom, and watch it. It’s going to be difficult, but do it, you will be amazed. What I always learn is that I talk way too much, I give instructions way too much, and I don’t allow my students enough time to talk. I also have learned, when recording myself teaching, you can also discover certain behaviors that you’re not maybe seeing. Because, possibly, your back is turned, or one kid is sitting in a place where you can’t see them as well.
It’s very also interesting to observe the kids. It’s interesting to see what they’re responding to, where your little kid audience starts to get bored, or antsy, and how you can wrangle them back in. I cannot stress doing that enough. I remember my first couple of years teaching, it was mandatory that we do that. And it was funny because we had to check out the little of antique now, VHS [inaudible 00:18:10], to video tape, to set it up and record ourselves. That was a little intrusive in the room, because the kids were all noticing it and making faces at it. Now, you can just set up your phone in a discreet location, and you could really catch what’s happening in your room and how you’re teaching your students.
I think another thing would be to take on a mentor. Seek out an art teacher whom you really admire, or another teacher in the building, and just ask them … You don’t even have to say, “Hey, will you be my mentor?” Because that can be a little overwhelming for some, but just make a point to befriend them. Find a time to grab a coffee with them, pick their brain about their management. Their line up policies, how do they do clean up when they’re doing something messy in their rooms?
All of those things are going to help you become a better teacher, more so than a number on a paper. More so than a giant binder telling you whether or not you are doing a good job, because you used certain words and your kids can recite their, I can statements, forward and back. In the end, your goal is to be the best art teacher that you can. In the end, what that means is, spending some time really reflecting on that yourself. Taking those evaluations that you get from your admin with a grain of salt, but not stressing over them. No need to cry over a three pound, three ring binder.
Tim Bogatz: Hello, this is Tim Bogatz, from Art Ed Radio. Did you know that you can sign up for a 30 day free trial of Art Ed PRO, the central subscription service for professional art teachers? Pro members get instant access to a comprehensive on-demand library, filled with hundreds of expert trainings, hands on tutorials, and rich printable resources. It is the PD you need, when you need it.
With topics ranging from assessment, to classroom management, to literacy, and budgeting, Art Ed PRO has what you need to be the best teacher you can be. And now is the perfect time to get started as we begin heading back to school. So, check it out and start your free trial, at artedpro.com. Now, let’s get back to the show as Cassie opens up the mailbag.
Cassie: Can somebody please help me down from this soapbox, because I have got a mailbag to dip into? This first question comes from my Instagram. Recently, I have been setting up my art room. I know that seems early, but I actually had by August the 1st, and I wanted to actually have my life together, not the night before. It’s a change for me, I don’t expect it to last. But since I’ve been sharing a lot of pictures of my art room, I have gotten a lot of questions. This one is from @missbrightbluehue, she says, “Cassie, do you tape the edges of your tables or paint them to color code them? I have the same size tables and setup.”
In the pictures that I’ve been sharing … I recently posted a complete room tour. If you’d like to see that, you can check it out on my blog. I have color coded my tables, and I’ve tried … I know a lot of y’all do too. I’ve tried many methods over the years. I used to, up until last year, about every six weeks, get a piece of colorful bulletin board paper. One piece red, one piece orange, you get the idea, for each table. That helped to color code the tables. What I hated about it was, is that there was always this paper on the tables that looked nice for, I’m going to be honest, about a week before it started looking like a hot mess. It would just get torn up, and every six weeks, I would have to take it off, throw it away, and put new paper down. It just felt wasteful and time consuming.
So, last year, I got some duct tape, the really wide duct tape and a variety of colors, the rainbow. And I put the tape around the edge of each table. The kids have not picked at it, and my kids pick at everything, noses especially, but they’ve actually left this alone. I think it’s because the duct tape is so stink and sticky, they can’t even pick at it. So, that’s what I have used to color code my tables. I’ve put duct tape all around the edge. Now, my tables are older, and I’m going to take a wild guess and say that, eventually, when I do need to take that tape off, it’s going to require a lot of googling to get that stickiness gone. I probably won’t do that until I leave, “You’re welcome, art teacher has to come after me.”
My next question comes from @lam4154, “How much does the school give you for supplies, and how much of your own money do you spend on school stuff?” I’m going to be honest, I’m pretty bad about spending my own money. My school is the usual, it gives me about $3, I think, per student. I also do a fundraiser, called Artome, A-R-T-O-M-E, which really helps supplement my art budget, and I love it. If you’re interested, definitely check them out on the Google, and you will be amazed. It’s a great fundraiser, I love it. So, I do in-depth spending, especially on the décor for my art room. When I’m at it, lets me honest, Target Dollar Spot, or Walmart, and I see something cute, I usually pick it up. It’s pretty bad, I’m not even going to lie, and I don’t recommend it.
This next one comes from @jessicakatycarney, “Where do you get the metal, I assume, art holders?” All right, so, in between … This was something new I started doing last year. In between my tables, I group my tables by two, and my two tables hold four students. So, I have a red and an orange, they sit side by side. A yellow and a green, side by side. Light blue, dark blue, side by side. Purple and magenta, side by side. Don’t ask why I just said that, I don’t know. In between those two tables, I have two of those … IKEA sells them, those three-tiered metal carts. I don’t have an IKEA near me, so I purchase mine from Target.
On those three tiered metal carts, I keep the supplies that students use, either as early finishers or just supplies that we use a lot. Color pencils, markers, oil pastels, fluorescent oil pastels. I’m trying to think what else is on there, construction paper crowns. I just like to keep those supplies really close and really handy. That way, if my first graders are using oil pastels, but the classic comes immediately after that, is not, then my first graders can just easily take the oil pastels off the table at the end of class, and just put them on that cart. If I have a third grade class where somebody finishes early and they want to work in their sketchbooks with colored pencils, they know exactly where to get them and where to put them back very easily. So, I have found those carts to be extremely handy.
I’ve also gotten a lot of questions about my seat sacks. Seat sacks are just like a little pocket that goes over the chair. Those, I picked up from Dollar Tree, but I’ve also had to stitch some of my own. There’s a tutorial for those, also on my blog. Those hold early finisher drawing sheets, or even just ideas sheets with different patterns and different designs. But if you want to take a full tour of my art room, you totally should. You can find a complete tour over on my blog, or of my YouTube channel. If you have a question for me, you should totally send it my way. You can find me at the Everyday Art Room, at theartofed.com.
All right, I hope my rant didn’t come off as ugly, as we say here in the South, but it’s just me being honest y’all. I think that we’re all here trying our best. And nothing makes people want to not try their best more than being beaten up, than being told we’re not doing our best. Than having some silly policy written by some people who are so remote from education, the it’s not even funny, telling us whether or not we’re doing a great job. You are doing a great job, at least I hope that you are, and just know that. Take everything with a gigantor grain of salt. Seek out those people who you trust their opinions of, and use them as your best tools to improve yourself as a teacher. Y’all, have a great week.
Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.