Up to now, teacher evaluation in Mexico seems to be a process of judging who is “suitable” (idóneo) and who isn’t by administering standardized tests of professional knowledge. Agreed, a test can be used in assigning teaching positions to graduates of teachers’ colleges, and to evaluate their preparation so as to improve the education of future teachers.
But exams are not enough to evaluate working teachers. As if passing a written test were all that is necessary for exemplary performance in the classroom, teaching diverse and needy students.
Good teachers aren’t born. They are the result of a process of on-the-job learning combined with reflection on teaching practice. It’s often the case that a teacher who struggles to learn becomes better at helping struggling learners.
As an alternative to passing judgement on teachers, teacher evaluation can more productively be seen as a process of training and professional development to accompany all teachers toward the goal of “suitability,” conceiving of teachers as lifelong learners.
As a member of its executive council, Eduardo Backoff expresses what we can assume to be the position of the National Institute for Educational Evaluation (INEE) when affirming, “education reform is centered on the essential component of the educational system: professionalization of teachers. The initial premise is that it is impossible to get positive educational results without excellent teachers.”
If Mexican teachers had a clear idea that evaluation is a process that helps and accompanies them in the quest to be better teachers, surely they would trust the process more.
It’s important to pay more attention to the dynamics of teacher training and professional development across time, rather than judging teachers by examination to determine which ones can be considered “suitable” at a given moment.
It may be that the INEE council members agree, but they have only been given the task of judging suitability. Teacher training and professional development depends on the Secretariat of Public Education (SEP) contributing to and completing the process, starting with money and proceeding to administer it with wisdom, investing in effective procedures and programs which result in more and better student learning.
During the past school year the SEP budgeted 364 pesos in professional development for each elementary teacher. “That is much less than what we might consider necessary. In addition, the training that is provided occurs under inadequate conditions,” asserted Silvia Schmelkes, president of the INEE council.
Last year each secondary teacher was afforded a budget of 10,000 pesos for professional development. Where savings occur at the secondary level is in not hiring teachers full time, but exclusively for hours taught. More than 70% of secondary teachers are hourly wage earners, which makes their participation in workshops, symposiums and group projects difficult.
Investing in teacher professional development at the secondary level means hiring full-time teachers or paying for the hours spent in training sessions. Considering the fact that secondary teachers are mostly employed by the hour, is it reasonable to expect that 10,000 pesos a year is enough to provide for their professional development?
An educational reform that bets the house on professionalization of the teaching force without adequate investment in teacher professional development is destined for failure, however the results are measured. A better bet would be to conceive of modern teachers also as learners, setting an example for students by modeling the values and attitudes of lifelong learners.
The problem is that teacher professional development won’t show immediate results in terms of student learning. The fruits will not be visible for some years, and only visionary politicians would be willing to assign resources without visible short-term results.
Here lies the fundamental contradiction of Mexican education reform. Without understanding the dissonance between the goal (better student learning) and the strategies and resources assigned to achieving it, there seems to be no way of overcoming such a monumental contradiction.
The writer is an educator with many years of experience in the administration of schools in North and South America. He lives in Pachuca, Hidalgo.