Updated: Feb 17
I'm being evaluated during a pandemic. Crud.
I turn to my teaching partner and say, “Surely they won’t proceed with evaluations this year. I mean, this is pandemic school!”
I would eat these words just a few short weeks later. In my evaluation, there would be goals, visits, reflections, documentation and artifacts — what the heck was all I could summarize.
There would also be virtual classroom visits, popping in and out of the Webex, and visits for the weeks we would be in hybrid in-person school. When my administrator asked when it’d be a good time to evaluate me, I immediately answered, “Whenever! They are all crazy!” “Crazy” meaning the opportunity to be flexible with content and lesson plans at a minute’s notice, flexible with teaching both students in quarantine and students in your classroom at the same time, and flexible with the daily changes to our COVID-19 mitigation protocol.
After the last evaluation visit before our KEEP2 (Kansas document re-certification system) was to be solidified for the school year and the recommendation would be made for re-hiring, I expected a stock email from my administration and a form to sign. What I received shocked me into paralyzation for a few days — REFLECTION QUESTIONS. A simple “It was fun to see your class in person today!” and then a list of seven questions for reflection and contemplation.
These evaluation questions could also double duty for an artifact for teacher reflection. She knew exactly what I needed to hear, “It was fun” and then gave me a dose of what I needed. An authentic, intentional and honest look in the teacher mirror. OUCH.
I left that email alone for 24 hours. Subconsciously, I have been thinking about these answers since pre-service in August, but I haven’t taken the time in pandemic teaching to sit down for a hot second and look in the mirror. We have been so focused on moving forward, pivoting, changing and rearranging we haven’t stopped for an instant as teachers.
Here are five of the most contemplative questions she posed after my evaluation.
How have you progressed on your stated goals?
What has been the biggest challenge about teaching in a pandemic and in a remote setting?
What do you consider your strengths as a teacher?
What do you find most challenging about your work?
What can the administration do best to support you? What can we do less of (or stop doing) in order to help?
Let’s start with the first question. MY STATED GOALS? Like, I survived the day, actually went to the bathroom and spoke to colleagues for five minutes today!? That should be one of my stated goals.
After the initial “Are you kidding me?!” wore off, I paused, re-framed and then began to type my answer. After I operated from a position of objectivity, I realized I had progressed through my stated goals: increase content knowledge (I teach technology, so programs are constantly changing) and provide innovative applications of knowledge. WOW! I actually do this on a daily basis!
When all things went COVID-19-crazy and we are in a large district, the teacher’s locus of control is relatively small. In August, I decided I would further my skills in Adobe Creative Cloud, learn new programs and work on projects and lessons I have never done before.This seems like as good of a time as any for standing my content on its head!
I wanted to model, of course, we aren’t good at things the first time — that is why we practice! My yoga teacher always reminds us, “We are good at those things we practice.''
Taking this message to heart, I modeled my goal, increase content knowledge, on a daily basis in my classroom. We tried breakout groups; we tried chats; we engaged with other designers on social media to get direct information for projects and inspiration. We held Zoom chats with local businesses and marketing experts from popular, well-known companies in the Kansas City area (Charlie Hustle and J. Rieger). We WERE progressing towards stated goals!
Questions two and five from the teacher evaluation gave me an appropriate and safe environment for communicating what I needed from our administration in order to be a great teacher.
My husband and I have four kids total, three of whom were learning at home and would be in and out of school with remote days, in-school days and quarantine days. I was on a slippery slope of balancing this all with a husband who was involved in a fall sport (that is an entirely different post!), while trying to learn new content AND be innovative? Gives me a pause of breath just reading all of these balls in the air.
From the evaluation question, I was able to communicate with my administrators that I needed flexibility. I needed recognition that if I left the building (we had to remote in the building) 20 minutes early to pick up my kids, I didn’t have another option. I needed them to know if I asked to be remote from home, it was out of necessity, not because I loved being there with everyone or just wanted to empty the dishwasher at lunch break. I needed my administration to TRUST me.
The most heart-warming and energy producing questions of my evaluation were three and four — what are my strengths as a teacher and what I find challenging about my work.
I found myself typing, “I LOVE MY JOB. I LOVE MY JOB. I LOVE MY JOB.” Even reading this sentence now, it makes me smile. Pandemic or not, I still LOVE MY JOB. I love the students, I love the process, I love my co-workers, I love purpose and I love that I look forward to work 99.9% of the time.
With pandemic restrictions, it’s been so challenging to me, because I love the people — the smiles, the laughter, the eye contact, the fist bumps or a pat on the back. My teaching superpower is helping students have a wonderful experience at school. I want them to love school as much as I do.
Pandemic school is not fun. Pandemic school is none of the smiles, hugs or fist bumps — but I can still SENSE. I can still send off positive vibes and dig deeper when I don’t get the sense my students are doing well. I smile under my mask, I play upbeat music and we have remote Friday Dance Parties online, of course. Seeing each other smile without masks on our remote days is a great side-effect I never considered.
When I first saw the evaluation questions from my administrator, I felt like one of my students, letting out a long sigh. After a short time, I decided to take the advice that is one of the mantras in my classroom, “It is not difficult, just detailed.” Turns out, it was like a visit to the teacher therapist — I kept typing and typing.
It was freeing to emotionally reflect on the year and have someone actually LISTEN. I had to apologize for my evaluation’s long-winded answers. The notion of how much we love our jobs and love our students WILL carry us through this. I have faith in teachers! Good luck, and cheers to you all! THANK YOU for teaching!
Jennifer Hair is the Director and Instructor for Connected Classroom Courses. She has taught high school business and visual arts classes for 18 years at Shawnee Mission East High School in the Kansas City metropolitan area. She also teaches numerous self-paced graduate education courses for teachers. For more tips, read our blog!