By Clare Berke May 1st, 2014 5:30 PM
More than one person cautioned me not to take a teaching job in DCPS. Their reasons varied from rumors of dangerous students to fears about the teacher evaluation system, IMPACT. Even my university advisor told my mother at our graduation celebration that he didn’t recommend joining the district. However, DCPS offered me a job, and I’m not the type to heed warnings anyway.
I’m glad I didn’t listen to my advisor’s advice because, five years later, I know that taking a job in DCPS is the best career decision I could have made. The students’ impact on me and the District’s evolution of the IMPACT system have helped make it so.
IMPACT is the evaluation system that administrators and Master Educators (who are former, successful teachers) use to rate current teachers. Teachers are observed up to five times per year (formally and informally). Each formal observation is unannounced, lasts 30 minutes, and is followed by a post-observation conference. At the post-observation conference, teachers receive their scores in nine different categories related to teaching and learning. The average of the scores is presented on a scale of one to four, with four being highly effective in all categories.
Besides classroom observations, IMPACT is used to calculate a teacher’s contribution to students’ success on teacher-created assessments, commitment to the school community, and, if you teach a tested subject such as 10th grade English, your students’ growth on the standardized assessment. All of the scores are combined to create your final effectiveness rating for the year. If you receive Effective and Highly Effective ratings, you have the opportunity to receive bonus pay and move up a career ladder.
Before I sound too rosy about an evaluation system that is much debated, let me back up and tell you that (1) I didn’t always feel so positively and (2) significant changes have been made to IMPACT since it began. The first year of IMPACT (2009-10) was my first year in the classroom, and I was lost in many ways. My instruction was weak, my knowledge of the students was minimal, and my resources were lacking. I thought then, and still believe, that IMPACT as it was implemented the first couple of years was not the best system for new teachers.
However, significant changes have been made. Today, new teachers receive an informal observation well before a formal observation, and effective and highly effective teachers receive fewer yearly observations. In addition, if one observation score is a full point lower than the average of your others, you can drop your lowest score. Supports have also been added to help teachers grow professionally. For example, collaborative learning cycles (CLC) led by master educators (ME) and school-based instructional coaches have been the best support that I have received.
I am currently participating in my fourth district-wide CLC led by a ME. My current CLC is made up of eight high school English teachers from across the city, and with the guidance of the ME, we are implementing three rounds of lesson study, in which we collaboratively design, teach, evaluate, and revise lessons on argumentative writing. The benefits of the CLC are three-fold: (1) you try out and reflect on best instructional practices, (2) you network with other teachers, and (3) you receive one-on-one support from an ME.
Before, many teachers viewed the ME as a potential threat to their jobs, but my experience in the CLC has shown me that ME’s are there to support teachers in the hard work we do every day. CLC’s also proves the idea that there is no singular way to teach, and that no one teacher has all the answers.
I started this post by asserting that working in DCPS is the best career choice I could have made. The role of the ME’s in facilitating CLC’s, and the improved IMPACT system with its financial and leadership rewards, are two big reasons that I am content. There are many other reasons, too, and I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t take this opportunity to highlight the most important reason I know I made the right choice: my students’ impact on me.
No matter the school, no matter the course, I have taught amazing students. Some of the students come from difficult situations, and many students are still grappling with how to be an adult. But, if you are looking for a position where students will appreciate your honest efforts and positive approach, teaching in DCPS is an excellent choice. The students will make you want to be a better teacher, and DCPS will support your growth.
In DCPS, I have found a place to learn, grow, and be rewarded. And, my students are at the heart of it all.