By Esther Lovett ’17
Though students writing anonymous evaluations of their teachers and their courses has long been a common practice at school, two years ago administrators revamped the survey teachers are asked to distribute each January. The goal was to encourage a greater level of consistency that Upper School Director Geoffrey Theobald said helps teachers better measure success today.
In past years, teachers have conducted their own surveys without a uniform set of questions. According to Mr. Theobald, the evaluation revamp that campus directors initiated serves two purposes: to provide teachers with a regular set of questions for cataloguing patterns that develop over time and to leave teachers room for any questions specific to their own particular needs or interests.
Mr. Theobald said these evaluations—tools the school uses to gauge teachers’ efficacy in the classroom contain “key input and information to help teachers understand the impact of their teaching.”
Evaluations now feature 10 sections of standard questions as well as teachers’ customized questions. Responses go to the teacher who has been evaluated, the relevant department head, and Mr. Theobald, who—on a rotating basis from year to year—together analyze the results and use them to make positive changes.
“We hope, over time, to get a good sense of how the students feel about BB&N teaching in general,” he said, “[and to make sure] each teacher gets the benefit of students’ direct feedback. If the only feedback that a teacher gets is from adult colleagues, it wouldn’t be as meaningful.”
English Teacher Rory Morton ’81, who has been evaluated with the old and the new systems, said he thought this process is an effective tool for receiving student feedback.
“The evaluation is a reality check, hopefully in a positive way,” he said. “It also makes you realize you [shouldn’t] focus on one day of teaching but on [teaching over] an extended period of time.”
Mr. Morton also said he uses survey responses to adapt his teaching style, as he thinks the evaluations’ anonymous nature allows students to voice candid opinions.
Emma Toner ’14 agreed that anonymity meant she felt she could give entirely honest answers in her evaluations. This winter she has completed surveys for Math Teacher Chip Rollinson and Science Teacher Karina Baum.
Noting that her teachers have never mentioned results after collecting evaluations, Emma also said she wished teachers would provide students with more insight into the full process.
“I don’t know how much weight the evaluation has,” she said. “It would be nice if we knew what effect it has on teachers.”