My view: Evaluating traits of quality teachers

By Dixie Allen

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 21 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Recently the staff of the Utah State Office of Education, under the direction of the state superintendent, made recommendations to the State Board of Education calling for changes in the Orderly Termination Act and the Educator Evaluation statute. This has stimulated a conversation in the state of Utah, which has already been raging nationwide, in regard to what it means to be an effective teacher and how that fits into a quality education system.

First and foremost, being a teacher in the U.S. system of public education often means that you are only one cog in the giant wheel of educating children. As federal, state and local governments set learning standards, curriculum, assessments and expected outcomes, which are filtered through administrative interpretation and emphasis, much of what has to happen in the classroom is already predetermined.

Secondly, as a teacher you then enter a classroom where you have little, if any, control over the quality of student or the family support each student receives. I have been reminded by many that most professions have little control over their working environment or the quality of raw materials in regard to the expected outcomes. However, I find little evidence of any other profession that has suffered the anecdotal responsibility for failure of an entire system to the degree that the classroom teacher is currently suffering.

So, one has to ask the question: How can we guarantee that we hire, reward and retain quality teachers? This is a very different question from how do we guarantee a quality education system.

Luckily, over the past year or more, the Utah State Office of Education has developed both teaching and administrative standards that greatly inform what should be expected of both job classifications. These standards have recently been added to Utah State Board Rule and are expected to be the standards that will drive both teacher and administrative evaluations in Utah's school districts.

The teaching standards include 10 expectations that the state believes will define the skills necessary to be a competent teacher, including: learner development; learning differences; learning environments; content knowledge; assessment; instructional planning; instructional strategies; reflection and continuous growth; leadership and collaboration; and professional and ethical behavior. More details about these standards and the standards for administrators can be viewed at www.schools.utah.gov/stateboardrules.

You will find many standards necessary for a quality education system are not part of being a quality educator. Money, support, class size, early childhood education, remedial programs and many, many more issues help teachers and administrators do their jobs. We should be careful not to give them all the blame or all the credit for the education system of our state and/or nation.

Dixie Allen is the vice chair of the State Board of Education. She represents District 14.

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