Videotape Allows Teachers to Evaluate Themselves

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Byline: Diane Dassow Daily Herald Correspondent

Just as teachers lay down the law for students on the first day of class, principals used to set out their own do's and don'ts for teachers.

"You'd get your catalog of sins," said Mike Neis, an English teacher and assistant principal at Driscoll Catholic High School in Addison.

Oh, how times have changed in the last 20 years.

The emphasis on lists of negatives from on high has been replaced with a collaboration between teachers and their supervisors to improve teacher performances, the Warrenville resident said.

"Most suggestions come from the person himself," Neis said.

And now, thanks to a simple method developed by an educator working in Africa for the past five years, teachers at Driscoll will have a new tool to evaluate themselves - videotape.

Brother Edward Everett, who has returned to the United States for health reasons, is piloting a voluntary self-development program for teachers at Driscoll.

"There's nothing profound about this," said Everett, who is a member of the Christian Brothers. "This is no great discovery; the videotape's been around for awhile."

Most newer teachers, he added, have been videotaped during their student teaching experience.

"But it's done in a kind of distant way, it's studio-run," Everett said. "I don't think it has the impact it really can have. They're just ... students."

As a teacher, Neis knows firsthand the difficulty of holding up a mirror, so to speak, to evaluate his strengths and weaknesses. So in his role as assistant principal, he and a teacher discuss a selected lesson and the teacher's plans. Then he observes the teacher's class for two days.

"All I do is record (in writing)," Neis said. "The types of questions asked, the number of student responses, teacher-student reactions and sometimes a script of the entire lesson."

Neis said it's hard to take complete notes, especially if the class "takes off." That's where the videotape comes in, he said.

The end result of either method, writing or videotaping, is a nonjudgmental sharing of the observations, with the teacher deciding whether anything in his or her style needs changing.

"It's basic human nature. People don't change if you point out their mistakes," Everett said. "But if you start with a positive base, when they feel good, they have the psychic energies to become better. …