How does a principal really know if a teacher is a good fit for a school unless she gets feedback from students?
How does a principal really know whether a teacher is a good fit for a school and its students unless she gets feedback from the kids? In far too many school districts, particularly low income ones, teachers are still assigned to schools by a central office. Sometimes not even the principal, let alone students, has the opportunity to meet a teacher before the start of the school year. In other cases, principals meet candidates in large hiring fairs. Administrators often—especially if it's a candidate for a high need math or science position—offer a promising prospect a job on the spot. If they have the time, they get the teacher to come to the school to be interviewed by other staff or parents.
Over the past couple of years a handful of school districts across the country have made headlines for considering student feedback when formally evaluating teachers. While the practice isn't without controversy and needs to be honed—5-year-olds obviously lack the maturity to officially rate an adult—perhaps students should become a formal part of the teacher hiring process.
That doesn't mean allowing students to ask a prospective teacher random, inappropriate questions like those that emerged from a 2010 U.K. dust-up where it was revealed that students were asking candidates questions like "If you could be on Britain's Got Talent, what would your talent be?" To avoid that sort of ridiculousness, students have to be involved in an age appropriate, well-structured, and professional manner.
For example, last week I got a call from my 8-year-old son's elementary school asking if he'd be available to participate in the interview of a prospective teacher. The next day he sat in a room with the principal, several of the school's teachers, and a few other students as the candidate did a demonstration lesson. He and the other students participated in the lesson, which enabled the school staff to see how the candidate interacted with the kids.
Afterwards, the candidate left the room and the principal and teachers asked the students specific questions—whether they felt the candidate checked to see if they understood what she was teaching and if they felt comfortable asking questions during the lesson. This is appropriate participation for an 8-year-old—no need to grill one of their future teachers on her education philosophy.
I shared the experince on Twitter, posting, "This morn my 3rd grader participated in interviews for a new teacher at his school. More schools should have kids ask ?'s/give feedback." Indeed, while there are some schools, like San Diego's High Tech High, that are well known for having a teacher hiring process that includes students, the rarity of student involvement in the teacher hiring process was evident from replies from educators like 6Percenter who wrote, "Wow Liz that is fantastic. I've been teaching for 24 years & that NEVER happened."
The irony is that while there's plenty of big talk about running education like a business—no top notch corporate CEO could be hired by just sitting across from a single shareholder at a hiring fair—we don't allow teachers, the same courtesy. Although kids are not widgets to be counted and measured. They are "shareholders" in our schools. We should treat them that way.