Experienced principal Carol Burris describes how she evaluates teachers at South Side High School in Rockville Center, New York.

I am tired of reading that “teacher evaluation is broken” and therefore teachers need to be evaluated by points and student test scores. The idea that evaluation is broken comes from “the Widget Effect”, a report created by Rhee’s New Teacher Project.  It claims that teachers are rated satisfactory/unsatisfactory, with nearly all being in the first category.

I have never used that rating system in my 13 years as principal. Nor have any of my colleagues on Long Island. It is used in New York City. New York City is large and important, but it is notevery district. That rating system could have been changed through collective bargaining, if the mayor and UFT had the will to do so.

I cannot tell you what every principal does, but I can speak to what I do and it has worked to build a great school.

First, there is a difference between the supervision of instruction and evaluation.  Evaluation is summative and judgmental. The clinical supervision of instruction consists of the observations, short and full period, written and not, the conversations and meetings with teachers about students and curriculum, the review of lesson plans and student assessments.  It is that important space where the principal and teacher meet to talk about teaching and learning. It is where teaching is reflected upon and improved. It should NOT receive numbers….unless you want to destroy its effectiveness. This will all change with APPR.

My assistant principals and I meet twice a week for several hours and we review our observations of teachers. We make sure that we are consistent in our feedback. We keep a recordof instructional concerns to make sure that we are not sending mixed messages and that we are concentrating not on trivia, but on what is most important. We identify teacher strengths and discuss how we can have the teacher share those strengths with colleagues. This is the most important part of our job.  We do most of the professional development for our teachers, often teaching those sessions along with teachers.

Evaluation, in my school, for tenured teachers is a narrative report issued at the end of the year.In that report, the teacher reflects on the goals she chose to develop that year. She and the supervisor choose goals for the following year. She lists professional development activities and ways in which she engaged with students.  The assistant principal or I sum up what we saw when we observed. We list strengths and areas for improvement.  

If the teacher is struggling, she is placed on intensive supervision.  If that occurs, the next year she is observed formally at least four times, lesson plans are reviewed in greater detail, there are frequent meetings that focus on instruction and planning, a teacher mentor may be assigned etc. The point is to give greater support. It works. Teachers get better. Most need to be on it for a year, some for a few years.  We have had teachers ask to continue informally after the process ended. It is very time consuming for the principal, but it is time well spent. In the very rare cases when a teacher digs in and does not improve, there is a process called 3020a.

Supervision and evaluation for untenured teachers are far more extensive. There are at least four observations. There is mandated professional development. The first year, they are assigned a mentor teacher. The teachers in my building are very collegial—they work closely together on the development of plans, units and assessments. They provide great support to new teachers.  

I do not give tenure easily—it must be earned.  Because of our commitment to equity, our school is not an easy place to teach—we do not hide struggling or reluctant students in low-track classes.

There are teachers who are not a good fit—although they may be successful somewhere else. Evaluation forms for untenured teachers are complex and lengthy. There are four categories for each dimension on which they are evaluated, and we provide narrative to back up the rating. No numbers are assigned. Although we may mention their students’ scores, it is not part ofevaluation. It is a thoughtful summation of the teacher’s work. By carefully monitoring to whom we give tenure, we have built a very strong faculty


I have no desire to have more power to dismiss tenured teachers.  It is my job to make sure that they are serving students well, and if they are not, to address it.  All of the tools are there. Although perhaps it makes sense to make the 3020a dismissal process shorter and less costly, it should never be easy. Tenure protects educators from the whims of political school boards.Teachers can give students grades fairly without having to worry that their parents are powerful people. It gives them the protection to speak the truth when it might be unpopular. Tenure helps build community in schools and that is very good for students and families.


I am very proud of my teachers. Nearly every one of them signed the principals’ letter against APPR, despite repeated pressure not do so. Not one has removed his or her name. They know they are more than a number. They know what being evaluated by test scores will do their school and their collegial relationships. Our teachers are true professionals. I think most teachers and principals are.