This marks the end of our series on good teachers and the book by Ken Bain called What the Best College Teachers Do. The book comes to an end with one of my pet peeves about education: assessments and evaluations.
How do you know if someone is a good teacher? I’d like to hear your answers. (We’d all like to hear your answers.)
We assess students and we evaluate our teachings, but none of it is what it should be until it is thoroughly shaped by learning outcomes. If education is learning then we assess students on the basis of what they have learned (not whether or not they have the right answers to objective questions) and we evaluate teachers on the basis of how their students are learning. Grading is not ranking students but communication for the sake of student learning.
So now some points:
1. The best teachers get to know their students so they can help those students learn.
2. The best teachers help students understand the criteria whereby learning is measured. That is, they succeed at getting students learn about their learning and about their thinking. In fact, some of the best teachers ask students to assess themselves.
3. The best teachers evaluate their own teaching on the basis of the learning of their students.
4. The best teachers use student evaluations but they are all connected to a larger, more professional, form of evaluation. A variety of factors — student evals, peer review, learning outcomes measurements — need to be compiled to see if the teacher is effective at stimulating learning.
I will tell you what I think of student evaluations: while I think they help young teachers see student impressions and find both their strengths and weaknesses, they are completely at odds with a learning-based education. Good teachers are teachers whose students learn well. The shift needs to be moved from what a student or a peer evaluator thinks of that teacher’s teaching and toward what learning outcomes are achieved by that teacher’s students. The difference is dramatic.