Judgment or Evaluation? It’s a Fine Line.

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One is final . . . the other is not

It’s often said that there is an extremely fine line between love and hate. The same has been said about judgment and evaluation. In fact, man has used these kinds of clichés so long and so often he tends to believe and accept them as truth. Yet nothing, absolutely nothing, could be further from the truth. Let us never forget this fact as teachers. To do so would mislead us and could render us ineffective as professional educators.

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The evaluation ingredient

As teachers, we need to understand fully words like judgment and evaluation. They play a vital role in our professional lives. Unfortunately, the very nature of our responsibilities can lead us toward misinterpretation as well as malpractice.

Action, reactions, opinions, and decisions are inherent in our daily lives. We are in a tremendously powerful position, for what we say and think is not only accepted, but also the course of action we recommend is usually followed. This is true much more than we may think. That’s why we must be sure our evaluations and judgments are correct. If they are not, someone is likely to suffer. Usually, that someone is one of our students. We simply cannot ever lose contact with professional maturity, responsibility, and perspective. Yet, the minute we fail to use reserve in our judgments, we do.

Recently, I read a sign that said, “It’s my opinion, but it’s absolutely true.” Designed in humor, this sign, nevertheless, contains a valuable lesson in human behavior. Although we hate to admit it openly, we often do believe that our opinions are absolutes. We go through life making judgment after judgment while referring to them as evaluations. A teacher can never forget that in making judgments, one must evaluate that thing which is being judged. It’s not uncommon for people to leave out the evaluation ingredient and proceed with great speed to judgment without even realizing what they are doing. It’s done so commonly that we call these people “judgmental.” When used, this word takes on a connotative weight. Most certainly, it is not a compliment. As teachers, we cannot afford to be considered judgmental.

Without an end

Confidence is the first teacher loss. Respect is the second. Being judgmental is subjective, not objective. Students have a right to expect that if their teacher has an opinion, it has resulted out of a background of fact which has been internalized and given back as an evaluation. If they ever discover that this is not the case—that nothing has been researched, given objective thought, nor is it going to be—they tag teacher statements and opinions for what they are: Blunt, subjective judgments. Needless to say, judgments do little to build confidence and respect.

Never forget the weight of teacher words. It’s possible that your opinions may be regarded as judgments. There are many things we say, as teachers, that should be rephrased, or our words may be misinterpreted. We have all heard teachers say things such as: “He’s not smart enough to take algebra”; “He’s not musical”; “He’s not college material”; “He’ll never amount to anything”; “He’s too little to play football”; or “He’ll never be a good reader.” These are subjective evaluations. They should be offered as such. They should not be given as judgments. Tweet this

Certainly, I’m not suggesting teachers should never make judgments. But I am saying we must make certain our opinions do not come out as judgments. A judgment is final. A teacher judgment may stamp “the end” on the box. Although judgments must be made, they should result only after objective evaluation—not before. Alone, teacher experience may be enough for an evaluation, but it is not for a judgment.

Evaluation is open-ended. It never needs to be finished unless there is a need to arrive at some conclusions. This means that evaluating always leaves room to search for more truth about the issue at hand. This fact is vitally important to the competent professional educator.

An evaluation invites contribution. A closed judgment does not. Most important, evaluation can be a growing and expanding engagement that can be included in a judgment.

The Master Teacher knows that if we care about students, then we simply do not subject them to quick judgment. In truth, making judgments is our responsibility, but not making them is too. Quick and subjective judgments may also be totally inaccurate. In fact, most quick judgments are.

The product of inaccurate or subjective judgments is resentment. Given something to evaluate, we must begin by taking an objective stand. If we approach anything burdened with preconceived ideas, our only capacity lies in being subjective.

The Master Teacher knows that even when we see something in a situation we wish we didn’t or that contradicts our thinking, we must still admit it for evaluation. If we don’t, our competency to evaluate has been permanently stalled. It is all too easy to evaluate the attitude rather than the productivity of a student. It’s easy to judge a student by the friends he chooses rather than the life he is leading. This, again, becomes subjective judgment and is, therefore, invalid.

The Master Teacher knows that one must understand that evaluation is letting “the chips fall where they may.” When we realize this, we can see the final difference between judgment and evaluation. The only problem remaining is our acceptance of the fallen chips.

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