One way to measure teacher effectiveness: memories?

With so much debate over what makes teachers effective, it was refreshing to read a tale from Pulitzer Prize winner Kathleen Parker that looked at her own specific memory of a life-changing teacher.

How are memories measured?

The piece in The Washington Post comes at a time when everyone, from governors to state legislatures, is discussing how to measure the work that teachers do.  The New Teacher Project is arguing that seniority should not be considered when decisions are made to lay off (or “excess”) teachers, and that experienced teachers are not necessarily better.  As HechingerEd noted earlier this week, Colorado is  considering major changes to state teacher-tenure laws. And Florida is considering a bill that would tie teacher tenure to test scores.

Parker wrote about a teacher whose influence she still feels not just because she won the highest honor in journalism.  In “A sprig of verbana and the gifts of a great teacher,” she reflected on Mr. Gasque, the teacher who restored her confidence as a new student in South Carolina. Her motivation to write this piece came in part because President Barack Obama is speaking out about the importance of good teaching.

“One of President Obama’s consistent education themes has been the wish that every child cross paths with that one teacher who hits the light switch and changes one’s life,” Parker wrote. And then she described how Mr. Gasque turned on her light, and what he did when she answered a question in a way that caused her new classmates to collapse in laughter.

“He whirled.” Parker wrote. “No perfectly executed pirouette can top the spin executed by Mr. Gasque that day. Suddenly facing the class, he flushed crimson and his voice trembled with rage. “Don’t. You. Ever. Laugh. At her. Again,” he said.

Memories can be a poweful measurement. HechingerEd welcomes yours.

— Liz Willen