Dear Educators 4 Excellence,
As a middle school assistant principal, I was excited to read about your panel last week on the topic of teacher evaluation. The panel seemed to be made up of interesting educators who might spark some ideas in my own practice. I spent some time reading through the policy paper that your group prepared. I found it thought provoking; there were some ideas that I agreed with and some I disagreed with. In my school, we often wrestle with how to effectively evaluate teachers. It seems that nearly everyone, the UFT included, has concluded that the evaluation system is currently in desperate need of reform. The difficulty now is coming up with an evaluation system that is both fair and effective.
I think that any group has the right to engage in free and open debate about the direction of teaching evaluations. So I decided I would attend your event and went onto your website to register. What I was confronted with struck me to the core as an educator in America: In order to attend, I had to check a little box saying that I read your platform and I agreed with the principles of your group. Must someone who is a member of your group agree with every element in your platform? While I agree in principle with many of your ideas, I do not agree with all of them. For instance, without a better evaluation system in place, I do not believe that we should end the “last in, first out” policy of laying off teachers based on seniority.
Asking members of the public to agree with a platform before they can engage in debate and listen to the ideas of your members is wrong. I am a middle school assistant principal with 20 years of experience in education, and I am going to be the one doing much of the evaluating. But in order to attend a discussion about evaluation, I would have to surrender my conscience. I stayed home.
It seems odd that your organization would impose a loyalty oath for people to attend your events. If you want to sponsor events that are closed to the public and only open to your members, that is your right. However, if you want to engage the public in debate and to test your ideas to the widest audience possible, then it makes no sense. It raises questions about the motives of your group and the commitment of your group to engage in honest debate with those that agree and disagree with you. In your public pronouncements, you state that your organization has 2,500 members. Were many of your members people like me who was faced with a loyalty oath in order to attend an event?
Our country has a history of requiring educators to sign loyalty oaths. During the 1950s, New York City teachers were required to vouch that they were not members of the Communist Party or other “subversive” organizations. Teachers who belonged were dismissed. Perhaps as a former history teacher, I am more sensitive than others about this issue, but I feel strongly that open debate will result in the best overall plan for encouraging effective teaching. After my experience trying to register for your teacher evaluation panel, I was left with an extreme sense of unease about your group. I ask you, why would any group require allegiance before allowing entrance to the forum of ideas?
Surely, your group must realize that ultimately we need teacher support for the new evaluation plan to be effective. If a plan is implemented that teachers feel is grossly unfair, it will surely fail. That is why it is critical to encourage debate with all, not only with those people who agree with you. Whether your group has 10 members or 2,500, whether it is comprised of teachers of little experience or filled with veteran teachers, I would defend your right to be heard in debate. Unfortunately, your group did not extend that right to me.
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First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.