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Lights, Camera, Teach!

My home state of Arizona is trying something different in their teacher certification requirements. Beginning next year, all beginning teachers will have to submit a 15 – 20 minute videotape of themselves presenting a lesson to students. They will have three years to complete the requirement in order to receive a "long term" license.

The assessment is the same as one used by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards as part of its voluntary program for certifying experienced teachers. Arizona has hired the Educational Testing Service of Princeton, N.J., to set up the new program, and the privately organized Arlington, Va.-based board has licensed use of the test to ETS.

I like the idea of including video evidence of someone’s ability to teach, for both licensing and evaluation. But what exactly does a "good" classroom lesson looks like?

I know more than a few school administrators who would walk into a classroom where students are seated in nice neat rows while the teacher lectures and think there is good teaching going on. Even if the kids are bored silly and learning nothing.

Take the same administrator into a class where the kids are all over the room, working together and discussing their projects, and they would see chaos. That teacher clearly has no control and is doing a poor job, although the kids very well could be learning more than in the “normal” class.

The fact that Arizona officials are working with the National Board for Professional Teacher Standards gives me some hope that the evaluators may be able to sort out the difference.

But the fact of the matter – that anyone observing a classroom needs to understand – is that there is no standard picture of good teaching. And sorting out the good from the bad (or the mediocre) takes so much more than a cursory glance.

teacher licensure, video, NBPTS

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1 Comment

  1. NY has this same video requirement – even the same video length, 20 min. And as far as I know, they are phasing it out.

    First of all, no lesson is 20 minutes long, so it is, at best, an incomplete snapshot of one’s teaching. Second, I think it takes them so much time to review them that you only get pass/fail, no really meaningful feedback. Third, anyone can produce one good video of themselves teaching. Well, maybe not anyone, but pretty close. And you’re right that there isn’t a single cookie cutter image of good teaching. The instructions for our video included a rubric that gave some clues about what they were looking for; my feeling was that if you followed the instructions and were reasonably sane, you probably couldn’t fail.

    Observing teachers actually teaching is hugely important for figuring out who should get licensed, but I’m not convinced that a 20-minute video actually accomplishes much in the way of meaningful observation.

    No one would EVER agree to this, but why not have three drop-in visits of one period each over the period of one year, by a different evaluator each time, with a standard rubric? Now THAT would give a sense of who was doing a good job! Then again, it would have been terrifying to know that someone might drop in to watch me teach in my first school, where some of my classes were pretty well out of control.

    Then again, what if it didn’t happen until your fifth year teaching? By your fifth year, you should have reasonably good classroom management even in a difficult setting…

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