Teacher Evaluations: The Case for Some Subjectivity

Despite our best efforts, no evaluation is ever completely objective. This is the case for both student and teacher evaluations. Assessing student work, particularly student writing, is invariably subjective. We as teachers consider individual student growth, motivation, and even “grit.” There is no way to perfectly grade student work, and no perfect rubric could possibly exist to eradicate that problem. But then again, is it a problem? Honestly, genuine evaluations necessarily incorporate subjectivity.

The same goes for teacher evaluations. There is no full-proof way to objectively evaluate teacher performance. If teachers are grading in subjective ways, we can hardly use their grades as an objective determinant in deciding how well they are doing their work, right? Grades, I will also mention, can be easily manipulated and basing a teacher’s performance on classroom grades could actually lead down a dangerous road. Assessing teacher performance on students’ performance on standardized tests could be arguable too objective. As in, these scores do not incorporate student socio-economic obstacles or learning challenges. Again, subjectivity is a natural and integral part of evaluations.

Grades and standardized tests should be incorporated into teacher evaluations, but they themselves should be considered subjective components of that evaluation. Other subjective factors should also go into this — administrative observations, department reviews, student surveys. Adding up several subjective sources will never get us to our desired objective evaluation, but it gives us a great deal more evidence to work with. We should always be asking questions about our evidence, and openly admitting their subjective nature will bette equip us to ask the questions necessary to evaluate their validity. Let’s not, then, depend on any one objective measurement, because it just doesn’t exist. Let’s rely on a compilation of subjective evidence, and question it to piece together a more cohesive, though still complex, story about a teacher and their performance in the classroom.

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