I grew up hearing my father talk about his treks to a one-room schoolhouse in Aiken, SC. Those seven-mile walks, verified by the car odometer, were mitigated because he loved his teacher and couldn't wait to sit in her classroom. She inspired him to learn, and her encouragement propelled him to go to college at the age of 15.
I came to fully understand my father's feelings when Helen Shelton became my first-grade teacher. Not only did she inspire me, but she also truly made me feel as though I was the smartest kid in the world and that I could be and do anything. She helped to set me on a path of learning and growing in school.
Like me and my dad, millions of other Americans have been inspired and motivated by their teachers. As we consider the best way to evaluate and judge teacher effectiveness, I am struck by a question rarely asked in this brave new world of high-stakes testing, peer reviews and student performance: How do we measure inspiration? The ability to inspire others is an essential ingredient found in great sports coaches, movie directors, corporate CEOs, political leaders and even great teachers. To me, this intangible quality should somehow be incorporated into every teacher evaluation process.
Don't get me wrong, I have long believed in tenure reform, performance pay, and many of the emerging criteria being used to better judge teacher effectiveness. But I also acknowledge and recognize that truly effective and great teachers can't be judged by these things alone. The best teachers inspire. Inspirational teachers are able to instill and nurture that quality in their students that remains the essence of the human spirit—the will to be better and the desire to do better.
Last year, TEDTalk's inspirational speaker of the year was John Hunter, a 30-year elementary school teacher from Richmond, Virginia. His presentation centered around his World Peace Game, a hands-on political simulation in which he puts all of the problems of the world on a four-by-five-foot plywood board and let's his fourth-grade students solve them.
Over the years, the results have been amazing. Hunter's fourth graders have at various times solved world hunger, global warming, totalitarianism and warring among nations. He may very well be the most inspirational teacher I have ever seen, as proven by his growing international acclaim.
Yet, as I listened to Hunter and heard the testimonials from his various students, I wondered how he would be judged under some of the new teacher evaluation systems recently put into practice. Is Hunter a highly effective teacher? Of course. But does that label alone capture all that he gives his students? Absolutely not.
Teachers like John Hunter remind us that it is important for teacher evaluations to be designed to reflect what inspirational teachers give our kids. Can this be done fairly and to scale, especially in large school districts? Hopefully. But as we strive for better and fairer ways to evaluate our classroom teachers, we must not let our compulsion to systemize teacher evaluations minimize the importance of acknowledging the personal and life-changing skills of those who teach and inspire at the same time.
These are solely the author's opinions and do not represent those of TakePart, LLC or its affiliates.
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Kevin P Chavous is a noted attorney, author and education reform leader. As a former member of the D.C. Council, Mr. Chavous helped to usher charter schools and school choice into the District of Columbia. Currently, Mr. Chavous runs The Chavous Group, an education consulting firm and is a Senior Advisor for the American Federation for Children.