An Honest Teacher Evaluation
by BLAKE R. BOWMAN
Dad and Principal, Lakes Elementary School
I was given the opportunity to write this article because I am the principal at Lakes Elementary School, but the inspiration to write this article comes because I am a father at Lakes, too. I’m in a unique position to examine education from two very unique perspectives. I can watch what happens through the lens of my office, and yet I’m also privileged to see it through the eyes of my daughter Melanie and my son Brennan. Both vantage points offer clarity into the state of education that seems to be missing in most analysis from Lansing and from some media sources. Rockford teachers have shone brilliantly throughout a year in which our profession has been under attack from legislators and the media alike. It’s not easy to consistently give your best each day when you are hearing from all these outlets that your best isn’t good enough.
They are wrong! They have never been to Lakes Elementary. They have never spent time in Rockford Public Schools. They have never seen our teachers hug our children, weep over them, whisper in their ears, touch them softly on their shoulders. They’ve never seen our staff wrap their arms around a child who was scared to sing at the talent show and give them the strength to overcome anxiety to realize a dream. They’ve never seen our teachers embrace a child whose father died unexpectedly just a few days earlier. They’ve never seen what time teachers go to bed because they’re still up working. I’ve exchanged e-mails with my teachers between 1:00 and 2:00 in the morning on school nights! Teaching is not an 8:00 to 4:00 job! Critics of our teachers have never seen the pile of receipts for things teachers have bought for their students, or the bills that will go unpaid this month because teachers made sure their students came first. The average teacher spends well over a thousand dollars of their own money on their students annually, providing those things for kids that reduced state funding no longer can.
Folks down in Lansing have never seen the adoration in the eyes of our kids when they look up at their teachers. They’ve never seen the pictures the children draw for teachers, nor have they read the notes they’ve written. They’ve never sat down with former students who come back to see their teachers 10 years later. They’ve never asked the high school graduates who invite their first-grade teacher to their open house about what kind of impact teachers make. They say that teachers don’t make enough of a difference for these kids, but they make all the difference in the world!
Don’t listen to “them.” They don’t know our teachers. They don’t know our kids. They don’t know my kids! On the night before the last day of school, my kindergarten son Brennan was crying in the back seat of our car.
“Why are you crying?” my wife asked him.
“I don’t want to go to first grade. I’ll miss her.”
Later in the evening, my third-grade daughter Melanie told my wife, “I hope I don’t make a fool of myself tomorrow.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m not going to be able to say goodbye to Mrs. Jenks without crying.”
Every year, I complete comprehensive staff evaluations. I commend educators for what they do well, and I challenge them to pull even more out of them in the future. I hold my teachers to remarkably high expectations, because the children of Rockford deserve it. Yet no matter how high I set my expectations, my teachers exceed them! Yet teachers’ truest evaluations don’t come from the government, the newspapers, or even from me. They come from the looks in your children’s eyes. When teachers look into them, they can feel awfully proud of what they see. I hope every teacher has a great summer, knowing that they’ve done their jobs as well as they could possibly be done.
I’ve heard pastors and professional speakers say that you can tell what a person values by observing two things: where they spend their time and where they spend their money. I’ve watched teachers for a very long time. I’ve observed how they spend their time. I’ve observed how they spend their money.
Teachers value children. Rockford teachers value your children! I wonder what they value in Lansing.