Not like factory workers; more like athletic trainers

As one who appreciates and often extols the power of analogical thinking, I've always been bothered by the furtive analogy made between teachers and factory workers. The concept of a teachers' "union" can lead us toward the analogy, but in fact, students are not products in any meaningful sense. Nevertheless the false analogy tends to influence our thinking about the act of teaching, and especially about how to evaluate the success or failure of teachers.[caption id="attachment_20769" align="alignright" width="213" caption="Scott Olson / Getty Images"]Scott Olson / Getty Images[/caption]The proportion of standardized test results that makes up a teacher's evaluation is at the heart of the strike in Chicago -- now in its second week. Sophia Tareen's AP story summarizes:

Chicago's teachers have drawn the hardest line in recent memory against using student test scores to rate teacher performance. And Mayor Rahm Emanuel is pushing hard to implement the new evaluations. That clash is one of the main points of contention in a nasty contract dispute between Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union, which President Karen Lewis has called "a fight for the very soul of public education."

In an opinion piece up today at the Huffington Post, I offer a counter-proposal for a more appropriate analogy and some conclusions about how that might affect how we think about teacher evaluations.

If we must make analogies to the act of educating, a better one would be thinking of a teacher like a trainer at a health club or fitness center -- an analogy I owe to Randy Pausch's book, The Last Lecture. Expanding on that analogy, how might we judge the quality of a trainer? By measuring the body fat, strength and conditioning of the students at the beginning and end of a semester's aerobics class? I don't think so. We wouldn't find that fair because we inherently understand that the primary responsibility for fitness lies with the student. Certainly we would hope for some development overall in the trainer's students' fitness, just as we do with teachers.But to evaluate the trainer before renewing an employment contract, we might rather observe: how the trainer creates an appropriate environment, inspires enthusiasm for fitness, creates structured activities for individuals and groups, demonstrates proper techniques, provides correction and encouragement, explains effectively the benefits and drawbacks of various exercises, utilizes appropriate and up-to-date technologies, offers some one-on-one attention with struggling students, and details what students can do at home to continue their development.

The whole piece is here.

Michael Peppard is associate professor of theology at Fordham University and on the staff of its Curran Center for American Catholic Studies. He is the author of The World's Oldest Church and The Son of God in the Roman World, and on Twitter @MichaelPeppard. He is a contributing editor to Commonweal.

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