Assessing teachers

Published November 1, 2012

We all know that a good teacher-or a bad one-can forever affect the way a child views learning. So how are Canadian teachers evaluated for effectiveness and tenure?

In Canada, teachers work in a regulated environment that includes periodic teacher performance appraisals (TPAs), conducted according to differing provincial and territorial ministry of education guidelines. With standards set by government, appraisals generally involve observation and evaluation by principals, vice-principals or supervisors across a set of several performance indicators. These competencies might include the following: commitment to and monitoring of student development and well-being, fairness and respectfulness toward all pupils, knowledge of curriculum subject matter and communication skills.

In Canada, teacher evaluation procedures are not tied to student results on large-scale provincial tests. “The focus is on the evaluation of the professional abilities of teachers themselves and on providing support for their professional growth,” says Paul Taillefer, president of the 200,000-member Canadian Teachers’ Federation in Ottawa.

If a teacher evaluation system overemphasizes the outcomes on standardized testing-as is the case in some jurisdictions in the U.S.-that can skew the assessment of a teacher’s true abilities to inspire curiosity and love of learning. “There is a growing concern in Canada that the ranking of schools and the trend to systems based on narrow testing results limit expectations of student outcomes in a way that is not necessarily good for all students,” Taillefer says.

Critics of the assessment system argue that, despite the appraisal protocols, it’s still too hard to get ineffective or abusive teachers out of the classroom. “They’re often just traded to another jurisdiction-like baseball players or bad priests,” says one Toronto teacher at a large Toronto high school. “Believe me, I’ve worked with some real crazies I wouldn’t want teaching my kids.”

Paradoxically, it can be easy to fire an otherwise good teacher who swims against the administrative stream. This year, Lynden Dorval, a physics teacher at Ross Sheppard High School in Edmonton, was first suspended, then fired for awarding zeros to students who failed to submit assignments or skipped tests-in defiance of his school’s “no zeros” marking policy.

Some observers, teachers among them, say that teaching would really improve with reforms to make it easier to dismiss teachers for incompetence, harder for teachers to get tenure and possible for parents to choose schools for their children and have their education tax dollars follow their selections.


  • Diana Swift

    Diana Swift is an award-winning writer and editor with 30 years’ experience in newspaper and magazine editing and production. In January 2011, she joined the Anglican Journal as a contributing editor.

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