Published April 27, 2020
The Measure of a Teacher
Drew Gitomer believes teacher evaluations are essential to supporting effective education.
Drew Gitomer, the inaugural holder of the Rose and Nicholas DeMarzo Chair in Education at Rutgers’ Graduate School of Education, focuses his research on measuring teaching, teaching policy, and the use of evidence to inform policy and practice. Gitomer, who also directs Rutgers’ doctorate in education program, also studies teaching quality, including classroom interactions, teacher knowledge, and student achievement.
“Teaching evaluation has the potential to support effective teaching because when we evaluate something, we make a clear statement about what matters,” he says. “We have to be very clear about what those characteristics are: observations, classroom practice of teachers and students, assignments, kinds of knowledge, content, and application. As we get better measures, we have a better chance to have a conversation and to create learning opportunities for teachers so they can improve their practice on things that really make a difference in the classroom.”
Gitomer’s undergraduate studies in psychology sparked his interest in how people think and learn, which led him to explore the relationship between learning theory and practical issues in education. He holds a doctorate and a master’s degree in cognitive psychology from the University of Pittsburgh, and he has been a principal investigator for the National Science Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, and the W.T. Grant Foundation.
Gitomer serves on several academic journal editorial boards, advisory panels, and the James S. McDonnell Foundation’s Teachers as Learners Program Advisory Board. He is a member of the editorial boards of the Journal of Teacher Education, Quality Assurance in Education, Review of Educational Research, and SAGE Open. His many honors include the Scientist Award from the Educational Testing Service, where he previously was the director and senior vice president for research and development of the Understanding Teaching Quality Center, and the Legacy Laureate Award from the University of Pittsburgh.
The Rose and Nicholas DeMarzo Chair in Education was established by the estate of Charles DeMarzo, who graduated from the School of Business at Rutgers in 1949. It is named in honor of DeMarzo’s parents and is held by a distinguished scholar in the field of education.
In the Professor’s Own Words
What has been the effect of teacher evaluation policy on the quality of teaching in U.S. schools during the past decade?
Beginning with the Obama administration, teacher evaluation became a major component of federal and state policy. The results have been decidedly mixed and vary across school districts and even across schools. In the best cases, district administrators, school principals, and teachers have all worked together to use evaluation to focus on important aspects of teaching and learning. They critically, but supportively, look at what students experience during classroom lessons and the kind of work that students are asked to do, all with an eye to improving the quality of instruction and classroom experiences of students. Unfortunately, there are many situations where evaluation has been used in a much less fruitful manner. Evaluation is viewed as one more policy mandate that requires compliance by participants. The process can create anxiety and/or cynicism on the part of teachers, and their evaluation results are often viewed as somewhat arbitrary or capricious.
The uneven implementation and productivity of performance appraisals is certainly not unique to teaching. Treating such evaluations as a compliance task has been commonplace across all types of employment settings.
What quality is most important in a teacher?
A strong teacher brings a suite of qualities to support students. Teachers not only need to know their content but also how to teach that content. They need to understand what challenges students face, what questions to ask, how to share information, how to provoke thinking, etc.
They also need to connect to the personal lives of students and recognize the gifts and backgrounds that each student brings to the classroom. They can use those connections to help students learn academic content and to build trusting, human relationships that can support the social and emotional development of young people.
What aspect of your work is most personally fulfilling?
Having joined academia later in my career, I have really enjoyed the opportunity to work with students as a mentor and collaborator. I have been thrilled to see so many of them develop into independent scholars and professionals who are making their mark in the world in a variety of ways.
This story is part of Rutgers University Foundation’s Endowed Chairs Impact series. Supporting professorships and research helps spark innovation and creativity here in New Jersey and beyond.