Should school teachers be evaluated by their own students?

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Stephanie Kopf

This is the question currently on the minds of Hamburg’s educators and politicians. More importantly, will this kind of evaluation lead to positive change or just cause mutual bad-tempered reactions that will ultimately lead to a worsening relationship between teachers and students? The city in Northern Germany is wondering.

A new move by Hamburg’s Senate is causing heated debate on the city’s educational scene, according to reports by the local paper Hamburger Abendblatt. The local faction of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) proposes that teachers should be evaluated by their students, claiming that the goal is to raise the quality of teaching in class. The paper further reports that politicians are now focusing more on singular teachers than schools. But that’s not all the SPD proposal calls for. Teachers should also observe each other at work.

Germany has a thorough approach to most things, and education is definitely one of them. Various statistics from Germany will confirm the country’s go-getting attitude. German schools and politicians are still talking about the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study from 2010, where German schools showed less than stellar results. Apparently this is still a serious sore spot. The worldwide PISA studies report on scholastic abilities of 15-year-old school students in OECD member countries.

The declared goal of the SPD is achieving a broad and comprehensive feedback culture. Their idea is that every student gives their teacher a short feedback after every class. Young graduates wanting to be teachers in Germany already have to first complete a type of trainee phase at schools, where they are observed by older colleagues and receive such feedback from students.

But the new proposal is also about communication between teachers and school supervisors. Which involves a pretty serious change of MO and which the party itself says is going to be a long journey.

Hamburg’s School Inspection department (Schulinspektion) is researching the strengths and weaknesses of the city schools in a long process. In the course of their inspection they have arrived at the conclusion that there are actually less differences in teaching quality from school to school, but more from classroom to classroom. It does make sense to tackle individual issues first before moving on to bigger goals.The SPD proposal states, according to the Hamburger Abendblatt: “Neither the school type nor the reputation of a school nor the district determine a good quality of teaching, but rather the effort of individual teaching staff.” The party also says that teachers don’t exchange ideas and opinions with each other often enough, so they don’t profit from each other’s skills.

The SPD proposal has to do with eternal discussions. Not to mention basic questions on what makes teaching or a class good or bad. But there are also many other issues that come to mind that are connected with mindsets and individual perceptions.

According to the Hamburger Abendblatt article, when a rep from the party asked some students when they last gave feedback to a teacher, he got the following answer, “We actually haven’t ever done that before.” Which is kind of to be expected. After all, teacher-student relationships and interaction has always been determined by a certain hierarchy. Students may see giving feedback as posing some risky consequences for them, especially if it’s negative.

The party is also making suggestions that teachers observe each other in class. The results of the observation should be discussed in subject-related conferences among colleagues. Teachers of one year should also work more closely with each other, also in planning lessons.

The goals and the ideas behind the SPD proposal are noble, but one wonders whether individual emotions and perceptions of objectivity of both sides involved in the feedback might not get in the way. In any case, the party is definitely right about one thing: it’s going to be a long journey.

Stephanie regularly writes for The Trenditionist.

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