Math, Beef Patties and Teacher Evaluation

Leah Raphael is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow who has taught middle school social studies and English in California and North Carolina.

Last week, I had the good fortune of traveling to New York City to conduct roundtable discussions with teachers. Though I am always very interested in hearing teachers’ perceptions around issues of education policy, I was especially excited for this trip because I knew I’d have the opportunity to spend time with middle school students. For the first time in eight years, I am not working at a school campus; while I have learned a tremendous amount as a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow, I have missed being around students every day I have been in DC.

That was how I found myself chatting with two fourteen year-old girls in the back of Jemal Graham’s classroom, a NYC math teacher working part-time for the Department as a Classroom Fellow. For about an hour, the two young ladies and I chatted about a range of topics. Though the girls had an initial hesitancy characteristic of most eighth graders, it didn’t take long before it felt like we had known each others for years. (I do have to apologize again to Jemal, who probably didn’t get very much math instruction done that day!) After giving me a rundown of their favorite authors (Sharon Draper), food (Jamaican and Sushi) and friends, the conversation quickly turned to school. I asked them several thoughtful questions and in doing so, got a better understanding of this Brooklyn school than any school report card could ever have provided. By the end of the conversation, I knew which teachers were well-respected, which classes were the most engaging, how the recent transition in school leadership had impacted school culture and which classmates were having a tough time academically.

Jemal Graham, shown with his class in front of his bulletin board that reads “The Grahamy Awards,” is a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow teaching math in Brooklyn, NY.

As I try to make sense of recent policy discussions with teachers (many have focused on “teacher effectiveness” specifically), I am struck by the ways in which students hold their schools accountable daily. When students feel that they are not being given the respect and quality instruction they deserve, they make their dissatisfaction well known to their teachers, parents and any other adult who will take the time to listen. As the conversation around teacher evaluation moves ahead, I hope that all of us who work in the service of young people will remember that they tend to have an extremely honest and accurate understanding of what is happening in their classrooms.

Leah Raphael, Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow

Read more about the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship.


  1. In every place of employment, yes, there are going to be slackers! Parents need to STOP blamming techers for all of their and their children’s shortcomings. YOU the parent are your child’s primary educator. Stop waiting for someone else to do your job. No, every teacher is not going to entertain your child everyday. There are going to be demanding, excellent teachers and your child is not going to like it but sometimes those are the teachers they will remember. The ones that did not accept excuses. You really are going to let your child dictate who they want to teach them? It’s probably always going to be the one that let’s them get away with doing nothing. Parents better start checking themselves and ask themselves if they are highly effective parents and quess what the answer is probably “NO”. I have two college children and one wants to be a teacher..I fear for her as if she was going to war. Slacking parents always look for someone to blame. If you are a parent and want to complain…go into the classroom and teach for a day and see if you can do it better.

  2. I echo both sides of the spectrum here. As a former teacher, a new parent, and now a federal employee I see the complexity of this issue. Teachers should be held accountable; however, they should not stand alone under that bright and sometimes “heated” spotlight. Obama has finally acknowledged the students and their “responsibilities” in his speech to them at the beginning of each school year. The students need to be held accountable, the parents need to be held accountable, the educational leaders, the policymakers, and of course the teachers. The onus falls equally on all groups and as a result each and everyone of them should be at the table to inform important decisions. Leah is right–unfortunately the students are never asked about the efficacy of the decisions made around them–despite the fact that it is, afterall, their journey and their life.

  3. I agree with the statements: “Shifting blame onto others doesn’t solve problems; it creates more problems.” and that “Teachers have Lost their Luster that they Once had.” There are many factors that contribute to the “Lost… Luster”; for example, the amount of academic material teachers needed to cover in a single school year has grown disproportionate to the amount of time there is to teach. There are districtwide language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, history, etc… programs with scripted lessons teachers must use and follow (Hence, the loss of luster). Administrators/supervisors tend to run schools with their own agenda in mind taking away teachers’ opportunities. Within schools exists bias and favoritism. Good old Politicians are always ready to voice negative comments about teaching when in fact they themselves have never stepped into a class, they’ve never taught in a classroom with three fourths of the class being non native speakers, students with disabilities, students who weren’t given the opportunity to start kindergarten because their parents didn’t think their son/daughter had to. Let us not forget that a classroom that ranges from about 10- 45 students in grades k-12 and special day classes, have children that come with different family values, experiences, learning abilities, family problems/issues, physical abilities/inabilities, etc… There are schools that do not function because of weak communication between students, parents, teachers and administrators. I am not saying it is impossible, but it is difficult. As a parent, we need to get more involved, get well informed, question teachers about our own children’s education and learn how are WE going to get our children to learn.

  4. I disagree with the following statement: “Most of the time students act out because they’re bored with ineffective teaching instructions.” When a student is a freshman in high school, he/she needs to demonstrate self-discipline and control. He/she is old enough to know what behaviors are acceptable and unacceptable. Whether or not the teacher is effective or ineffective is not the root of the problem. While I certainly agree that ineffective teachers need to be held accountable, students ALSO need to be held accountable for their behaviors. Students choose their behaviors and attitudes and they are the only ones who have the power to change their behaviors! Teachers don’t cause the students’ misbehaviors. Shifting blame onto others doesn’t solve problems; it creates more problems. There are a great deal of factors that contribute to students’ misbehavior and negative attitudes. Parents need to teach their children self-discipline and control, as well as respect for authority. Students need to be accountable when they do not meet expectations and their must be consequences.

  5. I echo some of the same sentiments of the previous comment.” Teachers have Lost their Luster that they Once had “. My childs attend a elementary school in Marlton NJ and has an ineffective and uninterested teacher and there is no accountability with the school. We cannot just sit by the sidelines and allow ineffective teachers to get a free pass. Our children will pay for it and ultimately so will we. I believe that teacher evaluations should not only include being evaluated by their supervisor or administrator provided they themselves are not “ineffective”. Lets face it poor performers are often the result of poor supervision or a lack of it. Parents and students should be able to participate in how a teacher is evaluated or rated. This evaluation often happens in colleges with students and the evaluations are weighed heavily. If parents and students opinions really counted teachers would be forced to make a better effort to do a good job.

  6. I will agree whole heartedly with this statement. We need to hold our teachers more accountable for students’ behavior in class. Most of the time students act out because they’re bored with ineffective teaching instructions. My son presently is a freshman in high school and there’s not one day that goes by he’s not voicing his frustration concerning a teacher’s differentiated teaching style or their focus on trying to tear him down as a student.

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