I have now been a full-time educational program evaluator for just over a month, and it’s been an exciting one! I absolutely love my new job and am still excited to be here. While in the Educational Research Methodology program at UNCG, I was fortunate enough to have an assistantship on an evaluation where I got “real life” evaluation experience. I was able to help write evaluation plans, conduct focus groups and interviews, analyze survey data, etc. Collaboration was a huge part of the work that I did, and I was part of an amazing team. Now, with WS/FCS, I am still part of an amazing team. That being said, I’m on my own so much more than I used to be, and it’s a shift that I’m still getting used to.
I still remember the days leading up to my first day as a kindergarten teacher. I was terrified! Yes, I had a wonderful student teaching experience, but I always had the safety net of my mentor teacher. I remember vividly the moment that I realized that if anything happened in my classroom, it was up to me to fix it. I was in charge. These children’s entire kindergarten experience rested in my very new hands, and it’s a lot of responsibility. I feel something similar to now. I have four programs that I am responsible for evaluating. While I do have wonderful people around me to help (similar to having a good principal, assistant teacher, specials teachers, etc.), the responsibility for these evaluations are in my hands. I am in charge. I am not a natural leader, but it is something that I am learning to improve on. It is at both times scary and exciting. I am very much so a new evaluator and I am soaking up all of the learning experiences that I possibly can. Here are some of the lessons that I’ve learned so far that I feel apply to both program evaluation and teaching:
1. Be organized! I have a lot on my plate because I am evaluating four separate programs in a very short time frame (about five months). I’ve found that I need to write down everything because I’m lying to myself when I say “I’ll remember it later.” I have a huge desk calendar that has everything: school visits, data collection dates, meetings, etc. I also keep a large “to-do” list that includes long-term activities for all of my programs as well as short-term items that I must complete that day.
2. Find a school/school system with supportive administration/staff. It makes a world of difference if you are in a school with a supportive principal and administration. Similarly, I’ve found that the director of my department, as well as everyone who works here, is absolutely wonderful. My boss is extremely supportive when I need to add things to my plans and reports and she frequently tosses out little tidbits of advice. I cannot stress how important it is to find a positive, supportive work environment. My first day here at Central Office was the Monday after I graduated. I came in to a cubicle that was decorated with balloons, streamers, and signs. It meant so much to me that even though I was new, they were genuinely happy for me.
3. It’s okay if you’re not perfect. Even though this is my first full-time evaluation position, I feel like I should be turning absolutely perfect work. It’s just not going to happen starting off the bat. I am learning to do the best that I can, make as many edits as I can and thoroughly think through everything that I am doing, but as a new evaluator, I often don’t know what to expect or how context might come into play. The first several years of teaching are similar (you can do it, I promise!). You will learn new things every single day and start planning for how to improve on lessons and units the following year. You might have the most perfect lesson planned, but when a snow delay throws things off or if your document camera dies in the middle of a lesson, the lesson may not be as effective. It’s okay. Learn from it, think through what you will do in the future if it happens again, and move on. I remember that my third year of teaching was so much better than the first two because I knew what to expect. I’m hoping it’s the same way with evaluation!
As time goes on, I am sure that I will learn many more lessons and have much more to tell. Until then, stay warm and good luck!