Ensuring equitable evaluation practices
By Elisabeth Yucis
It was my second day back in the classroom after a 12-week maternity leave, and I was extra bleary-eyed from catching a mere three hours of sleep the previous night, when my supervisor stopped by my classroom to welcome me back. He asked about my baby boy, told me everyone was glad to have me back, and checked on whether there was anything I needed.
Then he gave me some news: my announced observation was scheduled for two days later, and my student growth objectives (SGOs) were due in a week. In my sleep-deprived new-mom haze this news came as a shock, but as a nontenured teacher, I was reluctant to ask questions.
While I was thrilled to be back to work at a job I loved, I would have appreciated a little more time to get reacclimated before having to take on the important tasks of participating in an observation and setting my SGOs.
Educators care deeply about student learning and professional growth, and they want to do their best even in years when they take a leave of absence. A strong work ethic is essentially why the evaluation process causes most teachers to feel some amount of pressure or stress.
New Jersey’s current educator evaluation system is based on the assumption of yearlong employment, but an interrupted year is commonplace. Midyear hires have increased dramatically during this educator shortage, and many staff members take leaves of absence during the school year. All educators have the right to a fair evaluation in compliance with regulation and local policies, and NJEA can provide support to individual members and local associations.
A little bit of planning can go a long way, and in many situations, such as parental leave following the birth or adoption of a child, leaves of absence come with advance notice. Members planning leaves of absence should engage in a conversation with their designated supervisor to ensure fairness and transparency around evaluation. During this conversation, they can discuss observation timelines, SGO expectations, and confirm adjustments to professional development plan (PDP) hours. All of these details are case-specific and depend on the member’s tenure status, the length and timing of their leave, and any local evaluation policies and procedures already in place. NJEA’s PDII division is currently developing a resource to support members and leaders in guiding these conversations.
Advocating for equitable evaluation practices
If we believe that evaluation can be used to drive student learning and professional growth, then we must support equity measures within the system that ensure fair and meaningful evaluation for all.
The work of supporting members as they plan for leaves of absence may uncover opportunities for the local association to become more involved in advocacy efforts aimed at shaping local policy and procedure around evaluation. These efforts may result in opportunities to organize and mobilize members around issues of professional practice, which could bring fresh perspectives into the union. The downside is that change might take years of work; the upside is that everyone can benefit.
NJEA is an equity-focused union, and championing equity asks us to make sure our members get what they need to grow and thrive. Ensuring that all educators receive fair evaluations is one piece of the puzzle, and members who go on leaves of absence during the school year deserve a system that works for them, too. If you would like more information on how NJEA can support you and the members of your local association, please reach out to the NJEA Professional Development and Instructional Issues Division.
Elisabeth Yucis is an associate director in the NJEA Professional Development and Instructional Issues Division. She can be reached at email@example.com.