Can I make the grade in the classroom? For each new teacher, this is a big concern. It's also a concern for the school administration. The traditional method of assessing whether a teacher has or has not made the grade is observation by principals and department heads.
Does the system work? Three teachers, two nontenured and one recently tenured, help to answer that question.
All three teachers concur. Professional improvement in a climate of mutual respect and trust ranks as the highest priority for in-class observations.
''The spirit has to be to help you become a better teacher,'' says Marion Gaworecki, English teacher at Freeport High School in Freeport, N.Y. ''If this is clear from the outset, and it was in my case, the whole effort will be worthwhile.
''It follows that if you plan the experience to have postive practical results, the chances of actually achieving your own teaching goals are more likely to occur,'' says Ms. Gaworecki, who received tenure this past year.
Lora Nordland, a mathematics teacher, and Paul Rintamaki, a graphic arts instructor at Bozeman Senior High School are first-year teachers in Bozeman, Mont. It is not the first time either of them will be observed. Both have taught in other districts. Neither has tenure.
''I look for feedback on my ability to relate to students,'' says Ms. Nordland. ''This is an area that I feel an administrator can really help me on. I know math and I know they know I know math; that is why they hired me in the first place. Also, I want to know how I relate to other staff and to the kids outside of class.''
''I would like to have administrators contact my students as part of the evaluation process,'' Paul Rintamaki says. ''They are the ones who see me on a daily basis and I have enough confidence in myself and in their (the students') judgment to have this built into the evaluation process.''
Mr. Rintamaki doesen't feel ''advance notice as to when they are coming to observe me is necessary. I have to do my job on a daily basis, so evaluation should be that way as well. What I would like though,'' and here he echoes what every teacher contacted by the Monitor expressed, ''is to be able to say if I was caught on a bad day that I could say so and the evaluation would take this into account, that other chances would be provided.''
Unlike Mr. Rintamaki, most teachers see an advance warning as a prerequisite for in-class observation.
''The whole process can't be viewed as a one-shot deal,'' says Ms. Gaworecki. ''It's cumulative. And weaker teachers or people who just shouldn't be teachers become obvious in the first year. Then there's a need for the administration to come in frequently, offer assistance, recommend other experienced teachers to observe as well as work with the department chairman.
''I feel strongly that false expectations shouldn't be raised in a new teacher if they haven't got it. The first year is the year to weed out,'' she says.
All three feel sitting down with the person who observed them within one or two days after the session is critical. ''I hope for more feedback on what they anticipated in hiring me and what they feel I actually do in the classroom in this session,'' says Ms. Nordland.
A written summation of the evaluation with both parties signing their agreement or disagreement with the evaluation usually concludes the process.
In many teacher contracts written evaluations are standard procedure. Often, for legal reasons, it is a required first step for administrators if they wish to terminate the employment of a poor teacher.
One concern all three teachers expressed is that administrators may not know the technical aspects of the subject matter they teach. That administrators might overemphasize classroom control, order, and neatness at the expense of actual academic competence.
Having the department chairman or a district curriculum coordinator assess the content value of lesson plans, the effectiveness of lectures, and the clarity with which complex material is presented is one approach all three agree could be an option for evaluating a teacher's competence in his or her subject field.