I was a public school principal in Washington, D.C. – arguably one of the most challenging districts in the entire country – when the new educator evaluation system was put in place there. Every day I saw that teachers had a tremendous impact on their students’ learning. And based on much of the static that’s going around Connecticut, readers may be surprised to learn that in my experience, the best teachers were also the ones who rose to the occasion under the new evaluation system based on student achievement.

These educators leapt at the opportunity to educate higher-needs students, and they were excited to be part of a life altering profession whose impact can change lives and open doors to more opportunities.  Great teachers saw the evaluation as a professional growth tool, a way to take focused feedback and channel that into professional growth in and out of the classroom.  They avoided attacking the system, or evaluator, and understood that their personal and professional learning did not stop after achieving tenure. The great teachers were, or became, lifelong learners in constant pursuit of the perfect classroom, so their kids had the ultimate chance at success. 

The best teachers I spoke with understood that, “If I am teaching at the highest level that it is inevitable that my students will learn and grow as socially, emotionally, and intelligently.” They embraced the challenge, because they wanted to be treated like professionals, evaluated like professionals because they understood their profession was the most vital in any society. For these teachers, the adult issues were always second to student issues.

Connecticut should strive to have the most rigorous evaluation, certification and hiring processes in the nation because the research is clear: high quality teachers and administrators are the number one factor to a student’s long term success, both inside and beyond the classroom. It is critical to ensure, however, that we increase rigor not only in the evaluation, certification and training processes, but also in the hiring process for educators. 

When I was a principal I found that the more rigorous I made the hiring process, the more attractive my school became to high-quality teachers. Great teachers will not run from a difficult hiring process; they will be attracted and want to work for a state, district, school that holds the teaching profession to a higher standard.

Connecticut should also strive to raise the bar and expectations for all educators that work in schools, establishing a rigorous set of standards and core professional values that educators and administrators need to meet in order to receive tenure and additional benefits within the school setting.  Being an educator is the most important job one could have. We need to expect the best out of the adults in order to get the best out of our youth. This is why we need to ensure all teachers have professional development that address the academic and other needs of all kids. 

Based on my experience as a teacher, principal, and now director of educational initiatives at a nonprofit serving at-risk youth in Hartford, I believe that the education reforms being considered in Hartford go a long way toward setting Connecticut back on the right path. Now is the time for true education reform focused on training, hiring, evaluating, and retaining the best teachers and administrators, not only in the region, but in the country. Connecticut cannot afford to have a system that does not quickly and efficiently to provide assistance for teachers who need it, but also remove teachers who cannot perform at an acceptable level. We cannot continue to tell parents, “Your son or daughter is struggling because they have an ineffective teacher…but let’s give that teacher another chance to perform.” Because we know that just one year of having an ineffective teacher can impact a child for many years to come. 

If there are any teachers or principals out there who have questions or concerns about what it will mean for Connecticut to have student centered educator evaluations and recruitment practices, I would be happy to talk to you about my experiences in D.C. I can promise this is the right direction to go in if we are all able to agree that the priority should be educating all of our students – yes, all of them. Even the ones who have been written off by the system for generations.

Scott Sugarman is the director of education initiatives at Our Piece of the Pie, a youth development organization in Hartford, CT. He has been a public school teacher and principal. His email address is scott.sugarman@opp.org