An open letter about teaching

By Esther L. Truesdale

When assessing a teacher’s success, do not limit it to one domain. Teaching and learning must occur in both the Cognitive and Affective Domains.

The Cognitive Domain can be easily tested. Questions can be asked of students that evaluate recall, comprehension, analysis, and application of facts or concepts. Data can be collected and grades can be issued.

The Affective Domain can enhance, inhibit, or even prevent student learning. It includes student motivation, perceptions, attitudes, fears, superstitions, stereotypes and values such as kindness, sharing and personal responsibility. Teaching and learning successes in this domain cannot be easily evaluated.

In my early years of teaching, I became frustrated thinking I was spending too much time teaching in the Affective Domain,  guiding students to respect the space, feelings, and needs of others. However, I became less stressed when I realized the Affective Domain is as important as the Cognitive. In some years, my students tested lower in the Cognitive Domain than in other years. However, because I knew I had helped children improve in the Affective Domain, I did not allow myself to feel beaten down. I simply worked with what I had been given.

Data showing student improvements in the Affective Domain is scant.  Teachers spend much of a school day guiding students in making good decisions. These include:

• Respecting the space of others, standing  or sitting quietly; facing the front;

• How to care for a cough or sneeze properly, and how to use good table manners and appropriate language;

• Where to put personal belongings and how to respect what belongs to  others;

• Why we must tell the truth and respect various opinions, when appropriate;

• How to use, share, and care for classroom (community) items;

• What to do if there is a fire, tornado or building lock-down;

• How to accept a new student and help him learn class routines.

Additionally, a teacher spends time communicating with parents and guardians.  This may include a note home, a daily smiley (or sad) face in a journal, a phone call, face to face meetings, a weekly letter stating upcoming events, goals, spelling lists, math skills, naming the “person of the week,” and a six-weeks progress report, followed six weeks or less by a “report card.”

Teachers frequently attend before and after school teacher meetings, grade level meetings, impromptu meetings with others who interface with students, IEP (Individual Education Plan) meetings and PTO. Teachers prepare required lesson plans that include detailed objectives and how goals will be met. Often, lesson plans must include how a teacher will adjust for the special needs of a delayed or advanced learner, or one for whom English is a second language.

The Affective Domain requires a great deal of time but is not easily assessed for a data sheet.  How can you measure the influence a teacher has in helping a student become an honorable citizen?  If teachers’ successes are compared and contrasted, where is the data to determine whether students in one classroom brought more “out of school baggage” with them than students in another class? Where is the data to determine the impact of tardiness and absenteeism? There are many variables.  Each class is different. Each year brings a new set of challenges.

Parents, school board members, administrators, taxpayers, journalists, TV commentators, and legislators, please be attentive. When critics try to evaluate teachers and students solely by testing in the Cognitive Domain, they overlook the complexity of the educational process.

Responsible community behavior is expected of civilized persons. Results from testing in the Cognitive Domain are important. But remember the impact of the Affective Domain.  When determining success, consider the entire range of a teacher’s assignment.

Esther Truesdale is a retired educator and writer. She taught for more than 35 year at pre-school, elementary, and post-secondary levels, including a Ford Foundation Program. She volunteers in a local Beaufort County school.

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