Should students really be able to rate teachers?

Well-taught students anywhere are routinely tracked for progress and achievement, whether formatively or summatively, by modular or linear assessment, while schools (currently) are ranked in League Tables purportedly comparing the measurable ‘quality’ of aggregated student outcome.

Oxford Home Schooling / Open Learning students already work outside the mainstream, or even independent, educational system for myriad cogent circumstantial reasons. Many have failed to thrive amid the busy classroom cut-and-thrust, dissatisfied perhaps at paltry progress with staff too preoccupied with tickboxes and ‘zookeeping’ (a.k.a. classroom management) to spend precious time imparting or even enjoying their subject.(How sad an irony that, dictionary definitions aside, classrooms are now ‘about the worst place for anyone to try learning anything’).

OfStEd checks periodically that these beleaguered staff are not only coping and inspiring their students, but are up-to-date with subject skills and curricular developments, associated technology and social trends; the skill and knowledge corpus into which they were trained even ten years ago (a school ‘generation’ or two) may well not be current, robust and relevant for a fast-changing world. Any teacher worthy of that title should of course applaud and embrace lifelong learning, building ongoing training, re-skilling and updates into their own personal development scheme: a process itself requiring schools’ departmental and HR management, and which should indeed face regular, objective external scrutiny (‘TMAs for teachers’, do we hear someone cry?).

Amid all this, should school students have reciprocal input into their teachers’ assessment? Their working relationship is already asymmetrical: one trained adult purposefully sharing a room with several younger, less accomplished individuals, many perhaps reluctant or actively resentful. These latter may welcome a constitutional opportunity for revenge after a lacklustre report (however sadly, if genuinely, deserved; so teachers’ sincerity in reporting, in turn, is expediently subverted and another layer of unhelpful pretence confirmed). Carefully constituted mechanisms would meanwhile need to guard against the distorting effect of grudges and crushes: think of those parallel false misconduct accusations, destroying well-intentioned careers on a misguided hormonal whim.

Teachers themselves may well need reminding of what challenges feel like (as though they hadn’t plenty already), and of the struggle to fulfil standards. A sensitive, thoughtful educator may find this particularly tough occasionally, though while in some ways the ‘ideal’ teacher would be 100% impartial, professional and hence insensitive to a fault, that would in itself sideline such very qualities as actually make a truly effective teacher (consideration, empathy, ‘warmth’, spontaneity, flexibility etc); hence, these sentient ones may feel most threatened, hurt – or at least undermined – by formalised student feedback.

OHS/OOL’s own established tutor monitoring already checks ‘along the way’ and offers notional bonuses reflecting examinees’ eventual grades. Our remote yet individualised service is trusting, and usually rewarding and constructive; many tutors actively prefer such work as offering ‘a refuge of real-er teaching’ than modern classroom structures and strictures typically allow.

Can we take Tutor Monitoring (by students) forward particularly, in view of these reflections? If so, how so? What do you reckon?

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