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TNTP Re-imagine Teaching
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Shira Fishman teaches math at McKinley Technology High School in DC Public Schools. She began her teaching career in 2004 through DC Teaching Fellows, after working as a mechanical engineer. TNTP’s Fishman Prize for Superlative Classroom Practice, which honors excellent teachers in high-poverty public schools, is named for Shira.

Eleven years ago, I was a first-year middle school math teacher in District of Columbia Public Schools. Of course I was overwhelmed, stressed and emotional. But in those first few years, the stress had nothing to do with evaluations—to this day, I can’t even articulate how I was evaluated back then. There were occasional observations with very little feedback, and district-wide standardized tests that felt more like a nuisance than a method for assessing student learning or teacher performance. To me, it felt like improving my performance rested only on my shoulders—there was very little guidance about what I needed to do to get better, or how I should go about doing that.

That all changed when IMPACT was rolled out five years ago. This new evaluation system now spells out observation expectations with administrators and master educators, using detailed rubrics. Student performance on DC-CAS became a percentage of many teachers’ overall evaluation scores. Our IMPACT scores affect our employment status and our salaries, too: ineffective teachers are let go, and highly effective teachers earn bonuses and service credits.

I’m not going to lie—IMPACT is stressful. There is a lot riding on these classroom observations and on the students’ test scores. And there’s a lot riding on school leaders, because thoughtful and appropriate implementation is key to ensuring that teachers get strong feedback that helps us improve—which is and must remain the ultimate goal of evaluation for teachers, as for other professionals.

But there is even more riding on the education of these children. So it’s okay that the process is stressful—the stakes are high. A rigorous evaluation system that really means something forces teachers to step up their game. It forces us to accept constructive criticism and implement new instructional strategies to move student achievement, which is and must be our primary responsibility. It forces us to think outside the box and to lean on and learn from our colleagues. It forces us to become better teachers.

I have become a better teacher each of these last five years, and my students are better at math because of it. So the stress is worth it. IMPACT is worth it. 

Catch up on our introduction to The Widget Effect five-year anniversary series and find out what three school leaders have to say about where teacher evaluations stand today.