A Principal’s Evaluation of My Teaching Basic French, or: How to Oppress a Worker Through Performance Evaluation, Part Two

The following is the second of several posts that provide a verbatim reply (with a somewhat different order) to a “clinical evaluation” (a performance evaluation of my teaching) made by the principal of Ashern Central School (Ashern, Manitoba, Canada), Neil MacNeil, in the fall of 2011 when I was teaching grades 6, 7 and 8 French. This post deals with the performance evaluation of grade 7 French. It also includes my “Teacher’s response” to that evaluation.  

For the context of the “clinical evaluation,” see the post  A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and Its Representatives, Part Eight.

As a teacher, I was earning around $85,000 a year at the time. Undoubtedly, according to the social-democratic or social-reformist left, it was a “good job,” “decent work,” and other such clichés. Being under clinical evaluation or supervision, however, was in effect legal torture–and I could not grieve the continued harassment by the principal since it was within management’s rights to “evaluate” a teacher’s performance.

I provide Mr. MacNeil’s assessment grade by grade in separate posts (with each post followed by my reflections (response) that I provided. In other words, the performance evaluation of the three grades is distributed over three posts.  Four further posts will follow that include Domain I (Professional Responsibilities), Domain II (Educational Environments), Domain III (Teaching and Learning) and Domain IV (Professional Relationships).

I responded to Mr. MacNeil’s clinical evaluation with an initial 43-page reply, with the then Manitoba Teachers Society  (MTS) staff officer Roland Stankevicius (later General Secretary of the MTS) providing edited suggestions that reduced it to about 30 pages.

Mr. Stankevicius remarked that the evaluation reflected negatively–on Mr. MacNeil:

You have provided a very scholarly response but it needs to be shortened.  I hope you agree with my suggestions. …

You have made your points here.  NM [Neil MacNeil] does not look good in a lot of how he states his observations (in my opinion).

The radical left should expose both what management does and how it does it. Discussion of the situation that various kinds of employees face need to be openly discussed, but to do that it is necessary to expose, in a transparent way, managerial behaviour.

Lakeshore School Division

Teacher Clin

ical Evaluation Report

Teacher: Fred Harris
School: Ashern Central School
Subject/Grade: MY French; ELA Trans. Focus 30S; SY Support

The teacher and administrator will review Administrative Regulations and Procedures Evaluation Process-Professional Staff (2.3)

  1. Date and Focus of Teacher/Administrator Pre-Conferences and Post Conference

2. Grade 7 French 2011 11 29 2:15 – 2:50 p.m.

“Pre-conference: Students will ask personal questions of Fred. Then, students will take notes about gender of nouns, to give students a reference. Then, a lesson about possessive adjectives. When I asked what this lesson would look like, Fred responded “would you like a copy of the handout?”.

To note:

– in response, Fred says there is nothing to highlight, except that the class will be late due to coming in from recess.

Post-conference: I shared with Fred that it was not evident to me that there was any significant understanding of the possessive adjectives that students were being asked to learn/review, except on the part of one student. It was only this student who seemed to be particularly engaged during the lesson on the possessive adjectives. The only French written or spoken by the students throughout the lesson was when they recited “mes parents” twice after Fred.

We discussed two students in particular who seemed to be completely unengaged throughout the period. I shared that it appeared to me that Fred was “fighting” (for lack of a better word) with these students to pay attention, but to little or no effect. I asked whether Fred had considered other means of engaging these students, such as providing opportunity to learn in other ways for the student whom Fred identified as liking to draw. He said that he would consider this.

I asked Fred how he would know whether students had a command of the possessive adjectives which were the subject of this lesson. Fred replied that this would become evident as they worked on their family tree assignment. I asked how he might have a sense of this in the realm of formative assessment, and he said that he was led to believe they had a fundamental competence based on their responses in class. I pointed out that there were, effectively, no spontaneous responses in class aside from those of the one student who appeared interested and engaged.”

Teacher’s Reflections

Grade 7

Re:” Pre-conference: Students will ask personal questions of Fred.” I also asked questions of students.

Re: “Then, students will take notes about gender of nouns, to give students a reference. Then, a lesson about possessive adjectives. When I asked what this lesson would look like, Fred responded “would you like a copy of the handout?”.

There seems to be some confusion here. The administrator was supposed to observe a lesson on the possessive adjectives the previous week, which included taking notes on the possessive adjective. However, the same day was career fair for high-school students, and many classrooms were being used for that purpose—including my own. Ironically, it was the RCMP presentation which was located in the classroom where I taught. The presentation went to 2:30, but the observation was supposed to start at 2:15. Consequently, the observation took place the following week.

I had had the students already take notes on the possessive adjective another day. I wanted to give them a sense of the form of the possessive adjectives (certainly not “master” it in such a short period of time). I had also another day indicated that the possessive adjectives are difficult since their form is determined by the thing possessed. It can become confusing since the thing possessed may be plural while the person possessing the thing may be singular or plural. For example, mon, ma, mes: singular in the sense of the possessor, but mes is the plural form of the thing possessed even when one person is possessing the thing (ma soeur: singular thing possessed: mes soeurs: my sisters). It is true that I wrote on the objectives that the students would learn the possessive adjectives; I should have qualified that (mon, ma, mes); I made a mistake.

Re: “Post-conference: I shared with Fred that it was not evident to me that there was any significant understanding of the possessive adjectives that students were being asked to learn/review, except on the part of one student. It was only this student who seemed to be particularly engaged during the lesson on the possessive adjectives. The only French written or spoken by the students throughout the lesson was when they recited “mes parents” twice after Fred.”

I have partially responded to this above [in a previous post]. There are further issues. I was under the mistaken impression that I had to elaborate on learning goals before moving onto a specific task (see attachment). The claim that there was little evidence that the students had learned the possessive adjectives is inaccurate. A few did use it correctly; one student, for example, who is hardly a stellar French student, stated “mon oncle.” A few others also indicated the correct form. However, once it was clear that some indeed did not remember, I reviewed the possessive adjectives on the board in combination with the vocabulary for family members. I did not expect them to understand the possessive adjective immediately.

However, on further reflection, what I should then have done was to verify that more students grasped the concept of the possessive adjective. To that extent, the administrator’s assessment is accurate. I could have improved on my formative assessment. My formative assessment skills can always be improved.

A large part of the class was dedicated to an explanation of the learning goals and the task. I reviewed the possessive adjectives.

Re: “We discussed two students in particular who seemed to be completely unengaged throughout the period. I shared that it appeared to me that Fred was “fighting” (for lack of a better word) with these students to pay attention, but to little or no effect. I asked whether Fred had considered other means of engaging these students, such as providing opportunity to learn in other ways for the student whom Fred identified as liking to draw. He said that he would consider this.”

I am not certain about to which two students the principal is referring. We discussed one student’s lack of engagement. There was definitely one student who was tuned out and who did not pay attention. The principal has a valid point here. The principal suggested, besides the specific point of possibly attempting to incorporate the student’s drawing in order to engage the student that I differentiate instruction for the student. I have done that (see attachment), and the student has now drawn a family tree and written most of the required elements.

There was another student who interrupted me on occasion and who wanted to argue. I began to document her defiant behaviour. I called her parents, and we had a meeting. They were going to have her withdraw from French. They did not. I have attempted to walk a fine line in relation to this student.. Her defiant behaviour will probably continue, and I will address it when necessary, but to address it each time would disrupt the class. I have to use my judgement. When she is openly defiant, I will and have done something. For example, during a class subsequent to the observation, she wanted to get some white paper from the library for her family tree project. I let her, but she insisted on taking her binder. I saw no need for her to take her binder and told her to leave it. She made a point of taking it anyway; she had detention as a consequence.

Re: “I asked Fred how he would know whether students had a command of the possessive adjectives which were the subject of this lesson. Fred replied that this would become evident as they worked on their family tree assignment. I asked how he might have a sense of this in the realm of formative assessment, and he said that he was led to believe they had a fundamental competence based on their responses in class.”

This is a misreading of what I said. Given my philosophy of education, I would not expect that the students would have “increased their competence in the use of the adjectives or any other aspect of using the French language” during a few classes of French. I had reviewed possessive adjectives in French in general in previous lessons to provide a general but vague background. Concretization would arise through the process of creating a family tree within the limited context of using “mon, ma, mes” (delimitation of the set of possessive adjectives to a subset of them). To expect grade 7 students to be fluent in the use of even the possessive adjectives mon, ma and mes after a few lessons is unrealistic. Furthermore, since the use of these possessive adjectives constitutes a means to the end of creating a family tree (a solution to the problem of creating a family tree in French), they would be more efficiently learned—in context.

Re: “ I pointed out that there were, effectively, no spontaneous responses in class aside from those of the one student who appeared interested and engaged.”

I have already addressed this issue in part. Furthermore, spontaneous oral response is harder than the written form (since spontaneous response is usually delimited by a shorter period of time) In addition, as indicated above, there were a few more students who did respond orally—not just one.