For a teacher to be effective, she has to connect with her students. Striking the right balance between friend and authority figure is a critical part of helping students learn.
Why, then, are so many people resistant to including student surveys in teacher evaluations? Who knows if a teacher is fostering a positive environment better than the students working in that environment?
New York City recently piloted a program to measure student perceptions of their teachers as 5 percent of a teacher’s evaluation. This came months after Governor Cuomo canceled a state plan, unveiled in 2013, allowing districts to opt into making student surveys 5 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.
These surveys ask students questions related to seven domains. “The 7 C’s” include student perceptions of their teacher’s ability to control the classroom, how much they feel the teacher cares and how challenged the student feels by the teacher’s lessons.
Some may believe that students don’t have the maturity to rate their teachers in a fair and honest way. As Aleida, one of my eighth-grade students, wrote in a personal essay last year, “A good teacher sees when his or her students are hard workers, or lazy or even future school dropouts.”
It’s also clear that students know what makes a good educator, and want to speak honestly about their experiences. Students at Gramercy Arts in New York City touched on the need for student feedback, while also acknowledging they may have biases.
I strongly share their view that the way a teacher interacts with a student affects their learning, and believe that this cannot be negated by any concern about individual bias.
Even if a student has biases, their opinion will still be rooted in their own personal experience, and it is something a teacher needs to take into account. We need to know if there are students who dislike our teaching style, and work to improve.
Whether student surveys count for 5, 10 or even 20 percent of our evaluations, we need that data mid-year, with time to correct and grow. We shouldn’t be afraid to get real feedback, just as those in the private sector use customer satisfaction surveys.
There is no alternative to student surveys; this is the only way to measure teacher interaction with students—an outside observer cannot really know how students perceive their teacher.
No one could observe my classroom for a day and see, as Aleida wrote, if a teacher is “just there for a job,” or “to make a difference in a young person’s life.”
I urge New York City to continue its student survey program, and for teachers and policymakers alike to embrace the viewpoints of those our work affects the most—our students.