One might just as well say there is no gender identity. There is only a schedule for the portrayal of gender. . . There is only evidence of the practice between the sexes of choreographing behaviorally a portrait of relationship.
E.Goffman (1979: 8)



Tenure and Salary

T1, T2, T3 and T4 were all produced in the same type of context: the speaker explained a general point to the interviewer in a private situation. None of the things they talked about were part of the immediate context. Neither was the speech directly instrumental to a task being performed at that very moment. And yet it was functioning speech: The interviewers understood the speakers well enough not to have to question every sentence and they could use this language to write their fieldnotes. This is the advantage of doing anthropology in one's own culture: The participants are not disturbed in their rhetorical expectations. The contexts of interviewing are not as artificial as they can be in populations who do not know about interviews. The distanced reflective "observer" mode used by the speakers in these texts is not one that the interviewer suggested. It is a mode which the participants sometimes used among themselves. It is the normal mode to use with the many outsiders who visit the school.

The preceding analysis has left us with numerous questions: what are those acts which teachers do as teachers? How does one determine the quality of such acts? Why is it important that such a determination be made? How is distanciation marked? Let us first deal with the question about the importance of what I label "evaluation"--the processes through which it is determined whether a teacher is or is not "good. "Determining whether a teacher is "good" or "bad," whether he works, is not an empty exercise on the part of the administration. It is mandated by a major feature of the environment, "tenure."

What is tenure? At the most formal level, it is something that is defined by the State in the following manner:

Text 5

"(1) The service of all teachers, principals, supervising principals of the public schools in any school district of this State shall be during good behavior and efficiency, after the expiration of a period of employment of three consecutive years in that district, unless a shorter period is fixed by the employing board (. . . ). No principal or teacher shall be dismissed or subjected to reduction of salary in said school district except for inefficiency, incapacity, conduct unbecoming of a teacher or other just cause, and after a written charge of the cause or causes shall have been preferred against him or her, signed by the person or persons making the same, and filed with the secretary or clerk of the board of education having charge of the school in which the service is being rendered, and after the charge shall have been examined into and found true in fact by said board of education, upon reasonable notice to the person charged, who may be represented by counsel at the hearing. Charges may be filed by any person, whether a member of said school board or not."

Being tenured is being under the protection of this act ostensibly intended to prevent arbitrary dismissal or reduction in salary.

In nine months, we never recorded any direct reference to the text of this law. Yet, it undoubtedly was in the background of the central conflict between teachers and administrators over evaluation. I suspect that participants examined the written law only in cases of administrative emergency. In such cases, the complexity of the language used, the fact that most people did not really know what was written down, what was "legal," invested a kind of sacred fear in the document. This meant that to consult The Law one had to have the help of specialists--lawyers.

However, the notion which this text validates was not abstruse. It was very much in the mind of all administrators and teachers as background information which could be assumed to be shared: Being a teacher is not only teaching, it is also drawing a salary, receiving a certain sum of money from the "school system" every month, which, indeed is the sine qua non of survival in the United States. Getting into a position which provides such a sum of money, such "salary," is something which children and adolescents are trained to seek out very early in their adult lives. Failure to secure such a position is soon rewarded by rather drastic changes in life style, status, social environment, etc. Most people do not contemplate such changes with equanimity.

The most pressing need of a person looking for a salary, after securing one, is keeping it coming, at least until such time when one decides that one could get a "better," "more interesting," job. The idea that one might want to quit may often be present in a person's mind, with favorable implications. Being told to quit is something else altogether. It is something against which salaried people must defend themselves.

Teaching is a job for which one is hired and from which one can be dismissed. The job consists of doing a certain type of work in a certain manner. At one level, the "only" thing a teacher has to do to ensure that he will remain employed is to "do his job," to "produce," according to criteria set by his employer (the same thing could be said of course of the principal and his "employers" in that being a principal is a job, too). This appears simple enough but in fact it is not. How is one to judge "production"?

Let us go back to T5, the legal text about hiring and dismissal. According to it, public school employees can be dismissed, even when tenured, for "inefficiency, incapacity, conduct unbecoming a teacher or other just cause" which are other words for not producing (in the sense used by the assistant principal in T4), not knowing the subject matter, or not doing the job with the proper qualities. What distinguishes the situation of those teachers protected by the act from teachers just hired by the school system on the first one year contracts, is the elaborate procedure the employer has to go through in order to dismiss one of the employees protected by the act. This was considered by all our informants as a sure damper on rash dismissal of employees by the school system. It was felt, by some teachers at least, that the fate of nontenured teachers was necessarily unsettled (in fact, the principal told us that of all the teachers whose contracts were to be renewed that year, or who were up for tenure, there was discussion about only one, and he was finally given tenure). Tenured teachers, on the other hand, had nothing immediate to fear as far as their job was concerned. When we arrived, the principal had been trying for a year to get rid of one tenured teacher for a set of reasons which can be summarized as “inefficiency.” The process was still not settled when we left, nine months later.

Being recognized as a “good” or “bad” teacher may thus have little importance as far as remaining on a payroll once “tenure” has been granted. One might expect that it would be relevant for something else: the amount of the yearly raises. For a few weeks in the middle of the year, talk among the teachers concentrated on this subject as the Teachers Association negotiated with the board for pay increases. We were also told that these negotiations did not really mean much since the school system had adopted a unified salary schedule which mechanically rewarded experience and schooling across the board without any considering of “individual merit.” This policy had been adopted a few years earlier and we heard many stories about how some teachers used to scramble to establish “merit” when the school was on an (individual) “merit system.” This was generally referred to negatively or cynically: “Some teachers spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to demonstrate they were better teachers.” “All teachers would jump for money if this temptation was put in front of them.”

In any event, the spokesmen for the teachers’ association went into the annual negotiations quite confident that they would get a raise. One of the members of the teachers’ team, Jack Servanti, was heard saying, “We hope to get an 8% increase in salary for teachers. The cost of living has gone up 4.8%. Therefore, an 8% increase in salary would be appropriate.” In a rare mood of conciliation, some teachers said that the negotiations in Sheffield were not difficult and that they had no complaints about the way things had been handled in the past. They agreed that, “even though Sheffield does not pay as much as other school systems, it is worth teaching there because of the atmosphere of the school, the quality of the students and of their behavior and the good relationship between teachers and board."

This changed as negotiations progressed. Servanti reported once in the teachers' lounge that, the night before, he had been madder than he had ever been. He said that the board was not giving the teachers what they wanted and that one of the new board members was truly mean. Then a memo was distributed to the teachers by their representatives asking them for their reactions to a desire expressed by "some Board members that they would like to pay salaries commensurate with teacher effectiveness. "

This made significant another policy which the principal had instituted earlier. Fred Nevins, an older teacher who considered himself, and was generally considered to be, a "very good" teacher, explained it to me in the following way:

Text 6

"Foster argued that since there was but one salary schedule for all teachers, the work load should be spread so that everybody does a little of every thing. It used to be that some teachers taught the cream of the upper classmen, but now they'll have to teach ninth graders too. We all know that some are better teachers than others but since every body gets paid the same. . . "

He didn't finish, but his position on the subject was clear: there are such things as "good" and "bad" teachers and they should be treated differently--for example, by giving them different students to teach.

This issue of differential treatment of teachers is thus not simply a matter that was raised unilaterally by a Board intent on "making the teachers produce. "It had an echo among certain teachers, with a twist, however. While the Board interpreted a differentiated salary schedule to be a prod for increasing production, Nevins interpreted the same thing to be a reward for "increased," or at least "better," production. Some Board members were afraid that teachers would stop producing if they were all rewarded equally while some teachers were bitter about not being rewarded for superior work. As for the teachers who were in favor of a unified salary schedule, they did not so much disagree on the principle itself (after all they did agree that salary should be differentiated according to "experience" and "education"), as they disagreed with the idea that it is possible to evaluate "real" teaching. They pointed out that a merit system has the effect of increasing the level of manifest activity on the part of the teachers (composing "portfolios" of accomplishments, joining clubs such as the Jaycees, etc. ), but that it might not increase true quality. The relationship of these manifest activities to "good teaching" was considered tenuous.

In this dispute, the most fundamental principles in the organization of the school's discourse about the rewarding of teaching and about human life in general reveal themselves. It is worth spending time to explore the dispute and the type of specialized performances which it generated. We look first at the organization of evaluation procedures and then at specific examples of their use.

The Evaluation of Teaching

The salary dispute was tabled after a few days. It was decided that the unified salary schedule would be maintained. The issue ceased to be at the forefront of the adult actors in the school. (It had never been an issue for the students.) Other issues surfaced. What were the mechanisms which made qualitatively good teaching something that could not be rewarded? The administrators themselves would have wanted to give higher salaries for higher quality teaching. The salary schedule was a recent development. That such a schedule should have been adopted in Sheffield as it had been earlier in many other schools in the United States is not, however, a chance development. Nor is it probably a necessary product of increased union activity. Such activity may have provided the basis for a change. The direction this change took was determined by something else.

It is an aspect of the bureaucratic division of labor in modern societies that those who perform certain acts, like teaching, do not control their own rewards. They do not evaluate their own production. As we see later at length, this has profound consequences on the relationship of people in the school. At present, I want to look at the place of evaluation within the general structure and its relationship with production and producers. Let us first backtrack to what made evaluation necessary, viz. "tenure," and to the symbolic artifacts it leads the participants to produce.

Certain aspects of tenure are codified by the State. Not all aspects. The State statutes give some leeway for local systems to implement their own policies about such things as length of non-tenured status (at most three years, but possibly less), procedures for review, etc. What has been codified, in particular the need for complex procedures regarding the firing of tenured teachers, form the background of the actual discussions in the local systems. In other words, tenure, which, at a certain level, is certainly a cultural artifact, the solution to old disputes, is a fact of life to the local participants. It is an aspect of "the world" with which they have to deal, about which they have to communicate, on which they have to operate. It is on these operations that I want to focus now.

As the years passed, the upper reaches of the school system felt the need to write specific policies about various matters. These policies were made in a somewhat haphazard manner and, a few years earlier, an attempt was made to codify them. This attempt went as far as the creation of a vast index for all possible policies which could be made. However, in many cases, a category which appeared in the index of this book of Policies and By Laws did not appear in the main part of the book. We were forewarned that this would happen. We were given the reason that "we have never felt the need to write up a policy in many areas. "In many ways this "Black Book" (as it was known to the participants in informal settings) stood in the same relationship to the participants as the State Law did. It was there, in the background, as a refuge of last recourse, as a sacred repository of definitions. Policies were written and changed "when the need was felt," after a crisis and as a last rite of reintegration. These policies were the mythical representation of the real world. They guaranteed its reality. They performed this sacred role all the better since they were written in a special language, the domain of cultural specialists. Possibly even less references were made to these policies than to the "law. "We generated most of these references when we asked to see the book. We were answered that it was "incomplete," "not very helpful. "We were asked rhetorically: "What do you want it for? It won't tell you much. There are so many things about which we have not made policies."

One of these areas was tenure itself: it was not defined, nothing was said about conditions for its granting, duration of the probation period, etc. It must be assumed that on all these points the school followed the State laws and found them adequate for its needs. The one policy that was written up had to do with the evaluation of teachers. It was classified under the category "Personnel" and went like this:

Text 7

"Probation and Evaluation
Each school year, the records of every teacher in the system are reviewed by the Teachers' Committee of the Board of Education and the Superintendent. The Superintendent provides rating sheets for each teacher as prepared by the principal or supervisor who is responsible for the daily supervision of the teacher.
Renewal of contract for non-tenure teachers, tenure appointments, and recommendations for promotions and for full salary increments are based on this information."

We have discussed earlier in an economic sense first, and also as a symbol to be manipulated, the "real" importance of tenure, promotions and salary increments for a teacher. The State prescribes four qualities of relevance for the determination of appropriate teacher performance to be rewarded with a salary: "efficiency, capacity, conduct unbecoming a teacher and other just cause" (T5). Implied in the prescribed review procedure is the idea that these four aspects of performance refer to a series of acts which a review board can determine have or have not been performed. Not prescribed in any detail is the method by which it can be determined that an act has, indeed, been performed. Only prescribed is the determination itself: A charge must be examined and "found true."

The State thus presents the local actors with an object for operations. One of these operations is the establishment of the written policy from which I have just quoted as (T7). There, it is explained that teachers have a "record" that is "reviewed" for "rating" purposes; records and ratings are "information. "This information is necessary because it is on it that all decisions are based that have to do with monetary rewarding of the teachers. [ftn 1] In conclusion, we can say that tenure is granted and maintained for the performance of certain defined acts. For tenure to be granted and maintained, the people who may do so must ascertain that those acts have been performed. This is called "evaluation. "The facts that are gathered for evaluation are called, when taken collectively, "information" about the person and his behavior.

Given the large proportion of teachers who had tenure in Sheffield and the presence of a salary schedule, it could have been expected that the gathering of information about teachers would have been a low ranking priority for the administration and would not have been considered threatening by the teachers. This was not the case. The administration expected anything which smacked of "information gathering," such as any research about the school, to be resented by teachers. Quite a few teachers did acknowledge such a fear of attempts at gaining information about them. They explained aspects of their behavior (either towards the administration or towards us as "objective" outsiders) as being directed towards thwarting such attempts.

Be that as it may, the administration kept evaluative files on all the teachers of the school. Interestingly enough, this was considered a "new," formal procedure which had been instituted a few years before with the intention of allowing the teachers to react to their evaluation. Though we do not have clear data as to how the process of information gathering worked before this was instituted, it would seem that it was more informal and haphazard and involved only a few of the teachers, probably only the exceptional ones, the very good or very bad ones. With the push towards equalization of treatment recognizable in the adoption of a unified salary schedule, it must have been decided that an informal system was not sufficient. It is also possible that, by instituting such a formal system of evaluation, the administration intended to remind the teachers that, in spite of everything, they were still being evaluated, and to coax the "good" teachers into asking for a renewal of differentiated schedules. However, this is pure conjecture on my part.

Continuing this type of search for "causes" could only be fruitless. More relevant is the fact that teachers were being evaluated. How?

The new system consisted of a yearly review of the performance of the teachers. With the help of the assistant principal, the principal rated (from 1 to 5) each teacher on a list of criteria. These were:

Text 8

"Teaching Effectiveness Criteria: relationship with students; classroom organization and control; lesson preparation; knowledge of subject matter; effectiveness of instruction; attention to individual student needs; attractiveness of teaching space; use of new and varied instructional methods and materials; effectiveness of appraising learning.

Attitudinal and Professional Criteria: relation ship with colleagues, relationship with parents; willingness to assume routine responsibilities; accepts responsibilities beyond the classroom; complies with school policies; respects channels of authority; punctuality and attendance; takes steps toward self-improvement.

Personal Criteria: dress and grooming; enthusiasm, dependability; initiative; poise and self-confidence; judgment; self-control; mental alertness."

Of initial interest here is the fact that it is implied that all these attributes are quantifiable, that one can be "more" or "less" any of these things, from one to five on a rating scale.

The items are subsumed under three larger categories which involve: the teacher in his relationship to the students (Teacher Effectiveness Criteria), the teacher in his relationship to other teachers and the administration (Attitudinal and Professional Criteria), and finally the teacher in, I suppose, his relationship to himself (Personal Criteria).

Being a teacher is more than teaching. It is not only, as the word "teacher" implies, a matter of doing something to a "teachee," a student, it is also a matter of doing certain things, though not necessarily the same, to certain other people (colleagues, parents). To be a teacher is to accept that certain things be done to oneself (extra responsibilities, school policies, authority). It is to be certain things (enthusiastic, dependable, poised, etc.), and to present oneself to be certain things (dress, self-control, etc. ). One can do or be all these things more or less, better or worse. All this of course confirms and deepens what we had started to discover in T3 and T4 about the total responsibility of the teachers

After rating the dimensions of teachers' performance referred to above, the principal and assistant principal wrote some comments on the rating sheets. These ranged from a few sentences to several pages, the longest being generally reserved for teachers coming up for tenure or for those about whose performance people in the administration had raised questions.

Quite representative of these comments, both in style and in content, is the following evaluation of Paula Howard, an art teacher:

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"1) completely reorganized and implemented new curriculum in past two years.
2) excellent reports on courses this year and expects enrollment will continue to
increase as long as we have adequate space for program to take place.
3) outside speakers and field trips.
4) she doesn't hesitate to contact parents, either by letter or phone and discuss
students' situation.
5) excellent job of informing students of potential careers to point where many
students and parents ask questions concerning possible colleges which their
children might attend for this profession.
6) is Junior Red Cross representative.
7) attends many school athletic events, plays and concerts.
8) is certainly one of the most punctual people, being here almost every morning as
one of first teachers in her classroom around 7: 15 each day.
9) her philosophy and objectives certainly reflect those of the school.
10) constantly trying to innovate and devise a more interesting program for students.
11) should be recommended for her enthusiasm.
12) probably one of our outstanding young teachers in S. H. S."

Typical of many other such evaluations is the stress on innovation, enthusiasm, rapport, "implementing the philosophy of the school," punctuality. Other words frequently used include: "ambitious" (generally associated with "young," and always in reference to male teachers), "sincere," "cooperative," "diligent," "works without expectation of recognition," "has implemented individualized instruction" (related to "implementing the philosophy of the school"), "gives time to extra-curricular activities," "takes university courses," "accepts heavy work load," "has a good attendance record," etc.

These written evaluations are thus not much more than an expansion of the rating sheets. They focus on the performance of certain acts, the frequency of these acts or their influence on the frequency of acts performed by other people. Thus Howard invited out side speakers, attended many school events, was very punctual, increased enrollment in her classes and informed students and parents about career opportunities in the arts.

Somewhat more difficult to interpret, initially at least, are the references to "enthusiasm," "being outstanding," "interesting programs," adjectives which would seem to refer to the quality of the acts performed rather than to their quantity. Interestingly, in this evaluation, these adjectives are used as the final points, leading one to suspect that they are a way to summarize what was first said in quantitative terms: The proof that Howard is "enthusiastic" seems to reside precisely in the performance of the acts precedingly referred to. This applies even more to her being qualified as an "outstanding teacher," the last point.

Though there is a tendency for such an organization of the evaluation to recur, such recurrence is not conclusive in the type of analysis used here. To understand in more detail the relationship between being considered a "good" teacher, amount of work, quality of work, and interpersonal relationships, we must investigate not only the results of evaluation, but also the process by which such evaluations are made.

Good and Bad Teachers

During an interview with the principal, I was told about John Norman, an English teacher:

Text 10

"He's in the rather disagreeable position of having the board consider dismissing him. So I was asked earlier this year to go and check and to see how he's doing and whether he is improving or slipping. Very unpleasant. The poor guy becomes so nervous when I sit in his class that I have stopped, to let him relax. He is so careful to do everything well. If he had been working as hard for the last 14 years as he has been working this year, he would be great. But I think there is no hope now. Of course, he has tenure, and that's a problem. I don't think the board is going to do anything about his senior tenure. They are probably going to try to give him another job. We are thinking that maybe we could give him a lot of study halls. But this would be expensive! His problem is that even if he is trying to improve, it will take him several years to change his image. The kids, their parents, their brothers and sisters know that he is terrible. When they have all gone through after he has changed, then only could he make a difference. Two years ago they wrote his name all over the place, in the toilets, etc. He was the laughing stock of the whole school. We have no problems about his intelligence and his knowledge of English literature, but it is doubtful that he can communicate his knowledge to these kids."

Norman cannot "handle" his kids. They laugh at him. He is intelligent and expert in his field but he cannot communicate his knowledge. Even though he might improve, his impact on the children will not change because of his "image," the way they see him and talk about him. He must be separated from the students, possibly by being fired. He is also tenured. The charge is serious both in its content and in the fact that it is directed against a tenured teacher. The principal himself has to "go and check" on the actual performance of Norman in his classroom.

This act of the principal's is the deliberate dramatistic realization [ftn 2] of the State prescriptions which we analyzed earlier. How the Board was alerted to the fact that Norman was a bad enough teacher to warrant some sort of attention was never made clear to us. The situation seems to have been a long standing one. It had become generally agreed that Norman was a "bad" teacher. Certain prescribed acts had to be performed. One set of these acts involved a properly conducted gathering of information on which to base the total "evaluation. "This would then allow certain other acts to be performed--like the firing of Norman.

The quasi-ritual character of the procedure must be stressed because it is far from usual to see it unfolded to such an extent. We saw in T2 that the assistant principal prided himself on being part of an administration which had a policy of limited direct involvement in the teachers' teaching. There are different ways to collect the information on which evaluations must be based. The administration had decided that it was better to be unobstrusive about it. It happened often that nobody from the administration had visited a particular teacher's classroom during the past year or, at least, not more than once or twice. Norman's treatment was thus doubly extraordinary.

Still, all teachers were rated and evaluated, and they did not all receive the same rating. [ftn 3] Even on such criteria as "effectiveness of appraising learning" or "mental alertness," ratings varied from 3 to 5 (ratings of less than 3 were very rarely, if ever, made). Even in the written evaluations, there were some small differences in wording. The administration was collecting information but not in the legally prescribed manner.

How it did collect this information was not clear to anybody and most teachers were unhappy about the haphazard way of evaluating. When the final evaluations came out, there were persistent rumblings of discontent from those who had been rated low on certain criteria. They argued, more or less angrily, that their evaluation was "unfair" because "nobody ever came to observe my performance in the classroom. "The principal generally answered with a smile that there was no reason for concern, that these evaluations were not very important, that the teacher might, of course, try to improve himself on this point, but that he should rest assured of his personal support, and other reinforcing comments (see T20).

The "normal" evaluations seemed to depend essentially on what the administration noticed or was made to notice (by the teacher or by others). For example, one day, as I was sitting in the principal's office, Karl Boles, the drama teacher barged in, briefly explained a problem he had just been confronted with and then left right away saying that he was busy. The principal's comments:

Text 11

"He refused to become a guidance counselor because he prefers teaching. But he is very good at guidance. He just had a discipline problem. But his first movement was to check with a guidance man before doing anything. That's typical of him."

Other such "events" include: A student being sent down for a discipline problem, a parent complaining or praising the teacher, the principal noticing the way somebody is dressed, a remark during a faculty meeting, etc.

These incidents may initially not be noticed by administrators for their potential use in evaluation, at least at one level of consciousness. They either just "happen" and demand an immediate reaction, or they are interpreted as being an example of a quality already considered to be present in the person. For example, in T11 I was told first that Boles was "very
good at guidance" and, second, that what he had just done was "typical of him. "It is an example, a demonstration or proof. It is not a "datum" in an inductive process. The fact that Boles is "good at guidance" was already known.

In general, all routine evaluations are grounded in a view of the teacher which the administrators have gained from their early encounters with him. Subsequent encounters reinforce, focus, and possibly, sometimes, change this impression. For a teacher to make an impression on the principal is easy enough. The principal is required to "know" all his teachers and to be able to talk about them to the superintendent, the Board, parents. For a teacher to change the impression the principal has of him is not so easy. Probably even more difficult to change are opinions of oneself held by people with whom one has no direct contact, such as parents or grade school students. As the principal told us, Mr. Norman was probably locked into his role as "the bad teacher" by the negative tone in which all references to him were made.

Ideal and Real Behavior

I mentioned that teachers, particularly those who receive negative evaluation, express "outrage" at the informality of the routine evaluations. They can distinguish, as we might also want to do, between the "ideal" (bias-free evaluation) and the "real" (haphazard, "personal" evaluation). The distinction, however, is not grounded referentially. It is a semiotic one and, at times, the "real" becomes the "ideal"--and vice versa.
Many teachers disagreed with the idea that they should be evaluated on "objective" criteria. This attitude is best summarized in the following quotation from a teacher as reported by the principal--positively--after a staff meeting in which salary and evaluation had been discussed:

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"He said that he can't buy this evaluating as a teacher on whether he gets there at 8:00 and leaves at 3:00, whether he takes part in all activities, whether he does this and doesn't do that, or he keeps his hair combed and everything. He wants to know whether a teacher could do all this and be terrible."

That the principal would react positively to such a statement is not so surprising when we consider that, when he was discussing Norman, he did not criticize him specifically for what he did. According to him, Norman knows English literature very well ("he would be a good college teacher," we were also told). He attends all events, he is punctual, etc. And yet he is a terrible teacher.

Conversely, Gerry Carlson is a good teacher:

Text 13

We got back to why it is that everybody things that Gerry Carlson ins a good teacher. Nobody could say why. Jack Servanti said: "I don't know why; I just know that she is. Foe the same reason that you do, you know. Because she's very critical of things...I think she is always thinking about what's the best way to the the most material to the kids."

These comments were reported by the principal as development to his other comments I quoted in T12. Comments like this could be considered the triumph of subjectivity. First the principal had admitted that he had been to Carlson's classes only twice and briefly. None of the teachers ever see each other perform--their opinions of each other are solely based on feedback from students, gossip among themselves or with administrators, and on the rare occasions when a student talks to a teacher in the presence of other teachers. All of this could be concidered further triumphs of the real over the ideal. In fact it points to a more radical point. When Servanti says, "I don't know why; I just sknow she is a good teacher," he is arguing in favor of a different ideal which challenges the ideal of absolute objectivity. In certain contexts, such as philosopical dicussions of evaluation like the one the principal was reporting on in T12 and T13, being intuitive about evaluation becomes a highter and more proper norm than insistence on basing evaluation on objectively recognizable acts.

Higher norms and lower norms? Norms and values at all? We probably should not be led by our vocaublary to assign height or depth to such matters.

Objectivity and sibjectivity in evaluation, evidence and intuition, acts and the appearance of acts may not be really so much opposed as completmentary in the total rhetorical design. This does not mean that actors in a conflict could not symbolize their differences using each type of evaluation as the "proper" one to be used in the case at hand. This is, as we saw, what happened in Sheffield when salary issues were discussed: Most teachers, during the year we were in Sheffield, argued in favor of "quality." The administration, in its official acts, focused on "quantity." It had to do so in order to remain within the domain of legality. Paradoxically, the legal requirement for objective evaluations was devloped to protect teachers against subjective appraisials of "good" teaching. But it was teachers who protested the emphasis on objectivity! The principal tried to make more palatable the paraphernalia that marked objectivity by saying privately that he thought that quality was more important than quantity (which was in fact what he probably did thing...). Both teachers and adminstrators would have liked the ability to be both objective and subjective and to evaluate subjectivity objectively.

Thus, the fact that, on certain occasion, two conflicting groups would use opposite symbols and argue their conflict through this opposition, [ftn 4] does not mean by itself that the symbols are themselves contradictory within the concrete logic of the rhetoric. Far from it. Looking back at T13 where intuition seemed to be at its most valued, we see that, even there, quantity re-enters the picture. It is not simply that Carlson things about the "best way" [a qualitative statement] to get material to the "kids," it is also that she things about "the best way to get the most material" [a quantitative statement]. The very interpretation of teachign as involving the delivery of "material to kids is object oriented.

Thus, however difficult it might be to decide which of the acts Carlson performs prove her to be a "good" teacher, these acts exist. She does more of them and, by implication at least, they could be counted and measureed if she was observed adequately. Indeed, observation itself can be considered as being both an act and a quality. Teachers make negative comments about the administration both for not coming to obeserve them in their classroom ("quantity of observation") and also for having recorded irrelevant items of behavior, like attendance, or dress ("quality of observation").

The Quality of Teaching

In fact, the "qualtiy" of teaching performance is more than an intuitive feel. People agree that teachers perform acts, that same acts are of a different nature and more relevant to teaching than others, and finally that such acts can be performed in various ways. A good teacher is one who concentrates his attention on relevant acts and who constantly tries to improve the manner in which he performs them.

Conversely, it would seem, a bad teacher is one who is intuited, by his colleagues and supervisors, as not demonstrating those things which good teachers have. However, there would seem to be a shift in the treatment of "bad" teachers—those teachers who, at the time of our field work, were threatened with termination.

One of those was a young, male, chemistry teacher in the third year of his probationary contract. He was up for tenure and the evaluative review was of central importance for him. This was the last time when the administration had the actual freedom to get rid of a teacher easily. For the teacher, it was a matter of being threatened with the need radically to reorganize his life. The matter hung, if I may say so, on the length of his hair, which Taylor liked to sport somewhat longer than most teachers, and longer than some parents were ready to accept without causing a fuss.

The fuss never became a boiling issue. Everybody in the school who was interested in such matters knew that Taylor's contract was being held up, that the verbalized issue was the length of Taylor's hair, and that other issues might also have been involved, such as the new Board's desire to establish its authority by refusing at least one of the recommendations made by the principal; or the principal's desire to show to the Board that he was keeping a tight rein on his school. The case was clearly a multi-layered one.

The principal wrote two long letters as part of Taylor's evaluation. He recommended to the Board that Taylor be given tenure. I cannot quote these letters in their entirety because of their length. Both letters praised Taylor's performance on every count but one. He was working very hard. He taught 25 classes a week with 3 preparations a day. He had implemented a new "individualized" program. He was very involved in extracurricular activities. He had good rapport with most students. He had "tremendously improved" and would soon become "an excellent teacher."

However... "This of course is a very difficult topic,"—the principal was quite embarrassed to have to raise the problem--"but it would be my hope that as he continues to mature and grow, Mr. Taylor will understand the need to adjust his mode of hair style and appearance." Then the principal went on, in rather circumlocutary sentences, to say that, though there was nothing morally, legally, or even customarily ("in many school districts across the U.S.") wrong with long hair, "Sheffield will never accept it" because it is "the type of community it is." There is nothing Taylor can do about that and the "mature, advantageous" thing to do is accept it and to become "somewhat like the establishment in appearance." The problem is that some parents, particularly "those figures who are in the power structure of the city," have a negative impression of Taylor.

In Carlson's case, the same speaker was talking positively about intuition of being. In Taylor's case, we have negative references—the principal tries very hard to disassociate himself from "the establishment of the town," of which he himself is not part—about impressions and appearance. A distinction is made between intuition and impression, being and appearance.

This is delicate. We might justifiably wonder how valid is this distinction. After all, what is intuition if not a feeling based on appearance? This would appear to be a formal problem. It was not the case. The principal was embarrassed; Taylor was outraged. He thought that the whole thing was utterly ridiculous, that length of hair had nothing to do with quality of teaching. So did the principal though he also had to argue that he could not ignore the impression which Taylor made on others. From his point of view, the total evaluation of a teacher, as expressed in whether he is given a contract or not, necessarily includes the image that is projected.

If we look back at T10 and Norman's case, we see that there, too, the case for his dismissal was argued in terms of the impression which students had of him and which they would continue to have for some time in the future, even if Norman succeeded in changing his behavior. Conversely his "knowledge" was consistently praised.

Knowledge and acts are not enough. Without the proper impression, "it is not likely for satisfactory teaching and learning to take place in the classes" as the superintendent put it in his review of the Norman situation. In other words, it is not enough for a teacher to be good in absolute terms, it is also necessary that the students, and the parents, the "establishment," etc., think that he is good for the quality to be "effective." This is accomplished through impression management.

It is probable that few people in the school thought that the problems raised by Norman and Taylor were of the same nature. The principal himself considered Taylor to be good rather than bad and Norman bad rather than good. However, every reference that we have to Norman, in official evaluations, in formal interviews or random comments, include a few words to the effect that "his knowledge of literature is irreproachable." Conversely, doubts were always raised and expressed as to the "maturity" of Taylor.

The distinction which we made earlier between intuition and impression cannot stand by itself. It must be understood in the context of the speaker's attitude towards the particular circumstance: A feeling becomes an intuition into an essential state of being when the context is positive. A feeling becomes somebody else's impression "that is to be regretted" when the context involves a negative report about other people's feelings.

I must emphasize here that I am talking about the rhetoric of evaluation, not about the motives of the participants. For the principal to say "it is not you but the impression you make on others" may be a good way of disassociating himself from a distasteful decision he has to announce. In Taylor's case, I personally believe that he was sincere. In another case which we examine presently the principal may not have been so sincere. Similarly, for a teacher to argue that "good teaching" is a qualitative manner that cannot be judged by looking at overt acts, is self-serving: It effectively exempts him from being examined legally.

The point to be made is that, once an orientation to an event had been chosen, comments about it follow "formulaic" principles. Albert Lord, in his book (1960) on oral re-creation of epic tales, shows how the performers have to tell their stories within the framework of traditional identifications of situations and personae. In somewhat the same way, once one of the participants in the school mini-dramas has chosen his part, for whatever personal or bureaucratic "reason," the style of his comments, if not their actual phrasing, is prescribed. [ftn 5]

However, as Lord says concerning the singing of tales: "Formulas... serve only one purpose. They provide a means for telling a story... The tale's the thing" (1960:68). The formula uttered at the beginning of discussions around evaluation is only a means of apprehending the situation in which all the actors found themselves. For the participants, it is the development of the event that holds their attention and in which they are, quite properly, interested.

Yet, they cannot make their story except through the formula. They cannot help but dichotomize between what we could refer to as the "substance" of a teacher's performance and the "image" which he presents to others. We saw how what is qualified as "substance" and what is qualified as "image" may vary from situation to situation and from speaker to speaker. But the differentiation remains.

The Image of Teaching

A third adult was the subject of extensive discussions in the school. This man was Mr. Hugh Price, the curriculum coordinator. We were told by the principal:

Text 14

"Are you aware that Hugh Price is applying for jobs in other school systems? I hope he gets one. I would be glad to see him leave. I have been quite displeased by Price's work. He is cold and doesn't relate to people."

Price was tenured and could not be summarily dismissed. There was no thought of instituting a formal procedure against him as was the case with Norman. A certain pressure was applied to make Price uncomfortable in Sheffield. The principal considered it--wishfully maybe--quite strong: He presented it to us as coming not only from him--though he was as strong as he could be or dared to be--but also from the Superintendent. "Why" didn't the principal like Price? We cannot answer this question with any certainty. How did he talk about it?

In a long interview with the principal, three main lines of interpretation could be distinguished. The interview started with remarks that Price was unhappy about what had been written in his evaluation:

Text 15

"Hugh told the superintendent that he thought the evaluation was unfair because I implied that he didn't get along with the other faculty members and he didn't think that that should be part of the evaluation. Hugh thought that I should evaluate Hugh as Hugh. Fortunately the superintendent told him in his own nice way that relationship with other teachers was really a large part of the evaluation. You can't beat Hugh on matters of curriculum, he is very knowledgeable and quite up to date."

Once again, we have the dichotomy between who and what Price "is" and what he appears to be to the people he works with. But the principal went on:

Text 16

"There is also something else which has to do with the way Hugh behaves at board meetings. He was at a meeting a month or so ago giving a report on pupil personnel services and he was always throwing up remarks like 'down at the high school we should do such and such but we can't because...' He always kind of inferred the administration of the high school and it started to burn up the superintendent."

We have here a second motive for displeasure against Price. It must be noted that the principal was inferring that the superintendent was really displeased. We could not check this. However, we do know that Price had been in his post for many years, longer than the principal had been in his, and that until then, the superintendent had never complained....

There was still something else which was introduced by the interviewer with the question "how much do you think the personality of the principal really determines the character of the school?"

Text 17

"Oh, 99% if you stay very long. Hugh got along beautifully with Dr. Miller [the preceding principal]. I think that Hugh was as happy a person when I came here as any man on this whole staff and now he is probably one of the most unhappy. There is no question about the fact that he was Miller's right hand man. In fact, I know that the assistant principal, with whom I get along very well, felt sometimes that Hugh was the assistant principal in terms of authority and responsibility and privilege and that kind of thing. I've given Hugh absolutely no privileges. That's one of the frustrating things to Hugh that Ervin knows everything and that he doesn't know anything."

In other words Foster did not like Price.

It will be remembered that it is the principal himself who wrote such evaluations as the one against which Price protested. Such evaluations were presented as being based on the observation of performed acts. It was as such that the principal presented his evaluation of Price. This, of course, cannot be taken literally.

It is not so easy to characterize what was happening to Price. It could be argued that Price was being pressured to leave because of a personality clash with the principal who was engineering a campaign against him "without good reasons." This may have been Price's reaction to his fall from grace. Such an argument would highlight only one aspect of the controversy. The case could also be seen in the context of the cases against Norman and Taylor. There, the emphasis was put on the relationship between these teachers and those other people with whom they are inescapably in contact, children, administration, parents, town government. Thus, paraphrasing what the principal said about Norman we could also say of Price's "effectiveness": "There is not likely to be satisfactory coordinating taking place in the school" if the principal and the coordinator cannot stand each other. From the point of view of the upper administration the inability of a member of the school staff to relate to the person responsible for this staff might be a good enough reason to attempt to get rid of him.

The situation is even more complicated. Foster referred to Price's "infringements" on the prerogatives of the administration. Foster also mentioned how Price's importance in the decision making processes of the high school changed radically after Miller left. The source of Price's problems may not have to be found solely in the personality clash between him and Foster, but also in social forces which lead a new person in an authority and power structure to reorganize informal structures in order to maximize his own position. There was a general feeling that Foster was a strong principal, who had very definite ideas concerning what he thought a school should look like, and who liked to see these ideas being "enthusiastically" implemented. Foster was camtitted to "individualized instruction" in all subjects. Price told us that "individualized instruction is useful in same courses for some students but that it's unfortunate when a school thinks that everything is to be done through this approach."

The lines of conflict are multitudinal. Among the possible reasons for Price's new situation, "bureaucratic reorganization" was least verbalized, possibly because it was considered most ruthless. Indeed Foster's remarks, brief as they are, are about the only references we collected on this subject. This does not make this aspect of the total process less real, or even truly "unconscious" since same of the actors could be made to talk about it, however rarely.

The administrative aspect of the conflict between Foster and Price is real, but it is only one aspect of the total situation which involves also "personality clash" and "not getting along with the teachers." That Price actually did not get along with the teachers is difficult to document directly from our data: Nothing was more difficult for us to collect than comments from one teacher about another one. This is interesting in itself and we will cane back to it. Suffice it to say now that there never was any issue on whichunanimity was evident among the teachers. Nothing was more controversial than "individualized instruction." It is certain that certain teachers at least did not like Price and could not work with him. These teachers were precisely those who worked best with Foster and who would feel free to talk to him about their feelings towards Price. That the empirical "some teachers did not like Price" would be transformed into "Price cannot relate to teachers" may seem outrageous with regard to the ideals of objectivity, but it may be inevitable in certain contexts.

Right now, I want to stress the multi-layered nature of such an event as the Price evaluation. It is not possible to assign to it a final, "real" cause either historically or structurally. What we have are various interpretations of the same thing in different contexts. The "same thing" is the negative evaluation of Price. The contexts are: in T15, the other teachers; in T16, administering the school; in T17, the principal himself. To each context belongs a line of argument borrowed from a stock of traditional motifs and epithets. Thus one "relates" or not to other human beings with whom one works. One keeps one's place within an administrative structure, or not. One likes or one doesn't like another individual. Each of these contexts is a different "thing" from the others, and the type of consistency in negative appraisal of an individual which Foster demonstrates vis-a-vis Price is not part of the system. This system is best exemplified in the "Teacher Evaluation Sheets" (T8) with its broad and narrow categories and the possibility, widely used, to evaluate differently the performance of a teacher in each category. According to these sheets, one can relate well with students and with colleagues while not respecting channels of authority and not being punctual. Finally, most people in the school would probably accept the idea that a particular teacher may rate highly on all these criteria and still be a person that one personally does not like.

In summary, three aspects of being a participant in the school can be distinguished through different performances that are revealing of each. I symbolize these three aspects in two ways at this point. First through a typical, formulaic sentence. Second through a more abstract statement which I create to highlight the features of the unit as we can understand them at this point. I write this statement through slashes (/ /) to mark their theoretical position as emic units:

  1. "He does not relate with others in his entourage"rewrite as /relation with others/ [ftn 6]
  2. "He is a very knowledgeable guy, an expert in his field" rewrite as /objective categorical being/
  3. "I can't stand him" rewrite as /subjective personality/

This is but a very initial statement. But before we move to explore all its implications, we must spend more time on "image building."

Image Building

The most direct, and open, reference to the importance of image-building that we were able to collect is to be found in a "memo" which the principal had distributed to the staff sometime during the year:

Text 18

"Each one in his own way helps to create a public image for the school district. The teacher can make children love or hate school. The superintendent can gain the confidence of the community or tear it asunder. The principal can attempt to be accommodating or autocratic. The secretary can create a feeling of good will or antagonism simply by the way she answers the phone. The custodian can become a valuable asset by being helpful or he can be a detriment by showing no concern. The cafeteria worker can make the lunch hour a little more pleasant by serving the food with a smile on her face, or she can accomplish the opposite by forgetting the smile and just throwing food on the plates. No matter what your job is, public relations is your business, too."

"Public image" and "public relations" are everybody's "business" and something which can be created. It consists in how one person in his official function makes another person feel. We have a list of such functions: teacher, superintendent, principal, secretary, custodian, cafeteria worker, and a list of what they can do to others: "make them love or hate," "gain their confidence " "accommodate to their desires," "create good will," "be helpful," "make a moment more pleasant." Each function is personalized: "to teach" becomes "a teacher." A teacher remains a teacher whether he makes kids love or hate school (though, as we saw, he may not be employed for long if he does the latter...). In other words, a teacher remains a teacher whether he "relates" with kids and others, or not. Thus a positive image of self others hold is something different from one's own functional and substantive reality. "Being helpful" refers to the quality of an act which exists beyond or before any quality which might be attached to it.

In itself, and out of its context, T18 could be seen as a somewhat simple-minded call for unity, general good will, love, accommodation, etc. But T18 was written by the principal and addressed to the staff for which he is responsible. How do the teachers see the principal's actions about such matters? T19 and T20 consist of two "rumors":

Text 19

Hope Staffer said that rumor has it that Dr. Foster said that all contracts are being held up for a month. She said that Dr. Foster said the reason for this is because there is a new board of education and Dr. Colson [the superintendent] is concerned that he may not keep his job if it looks like he's letting all teachers through so easily. As Hope said, Dr. Foster said that Colson doesn't want the board to think that any teacher can get rehired in Sheffield. Dr. Colson wouldn't think that this looked good for the school system.

Text 20

It seems that Mrs. Manning was upset because she had gotten a 4 or a 3 in some categories and she spoke about this to Dr- Foster. It seems that Foster said to her that she was given some lower marks, and other teachers were, too, so that the board wouldn't think that 4's and 5's were handed out so easily to everyone. Mrs. Staffer added that Dr. Foster supposedly said that Mrs. Manning could go and change these numbers and he wouldn't care after the board saw them because it was just done for public relations with the board. Mrs. Staffer thought that this was really unfair to the teachers.

The "truth" of these rumors and stories is, of course, not relevant here. They should just be taken as exemplary of a way of talking about the principal and his motivations that is fairly typical of those teachers who are critical of his performance. Clearly, these teachers structure their negative comments in much the same manner as the principal himself does with teachers whom he considers bad. The principal acts; and certain of his acts are "public relation" acts intended to make him (or the superintendent) "look good." The interesting twist, of course,in that Staffer considers the case "unfair to the teachers" and uses a tone of moral outrage to describe it. What is unfair about Foster's actions is that they transform into an unreal "image" something which, for the teachers, is painfully real. If the ratings are low, they know that the "image" which the principal projects will become a reality to his audience, particularly if he is good at image-building. Staffer (who was not tenured) is afraid that she might be fired by the Board because the principal needs to build his own image (and thus remain on the payroll) by appearing tough. This process of transformation of a "reality" into an "image" intended to demonstrate another reality to a different audience works at all levels. There was talk at one point among the teachers that the new Board itself would play the game and fire at least one teacher to establish its position in relation to the community.

From the point of view of the principal, what he observes in the teachers is itself an image because the reality of the teachers' performance is unattainable, or even irrelevant if the image clashes too strongly with what would be acceptable to the teachers' audience. From the teachers' side, it is the image that is irrelevant, precisely because it cannot attain the reality of their true performance which they can apprehend directly. What is rated must be this reality, and no games should be played with the rating.

The teachers themselves, of course, are not beyond playing such public relations games in other situations. Taylor, who was particularly aware of the importance of dress, told us explicitly: "After I am tenured I may decide to stop wearing a tie. It's stupid for men teachers to have to wear ties." What the principal referred to as "improvement" and maturing in his evaluation of Taylor may have been solely Taylor's realization of the importance of projecting the right image in order to preserve his job. This "realization," however, is not a process of ideological conversion. Taylor assumes "he"—the "real" Taylor —has not changed.

Few teachers readily acknowledged that a certain act had been performed purely for the sake of appearances. Most teachers assumed that others did "act" in ways that hid their "real" self. They feared that "images" would be taken for "realities," and that "realities" would be taken for "images." I put quote marks around "reality" and "image" as a reminder that the participants' notion of what is real is not determined by empirical observation. Taylor did have long hair--a fact. Carlson was a "good teacher"--a fact, perhaps, tut one that had never been ascertained in quite the same manner as it had been ascertained that Taylor's hair was long. To decide the facticity of any event is a matter of taking a stance. What is image and what is reality in the actions of the people involved was never settled at the outset of an interaction. A distinction was made. It allowed each notion to become significant separately. It made them available for the expression of conflicts generated otherwise.


1) When I say that all this is cultural, I am not disputing the idea that, at the most general level, all human action is based on "information."I do believe, however, that not all semantic systems, or cultures, recognize this "fact" of their life.In fact, even American culture which, in certain contexts, insists on the importance of "information" as the basis for action, does not recognize its importance in other contexts (e.g. friendship).back to text

2) See Chapter XII for a more extended discussion of such processes.In brief, the notion of "dramatistic expansion" may allow us to deal with actions the source of which is immediately symbolic.The prototype of such actions is ritual, but the total class is much broader.The principal's attending Norman's classes is not a rite, but it possesses many of the same properties.back to text

3) The following discussion of the process of teacher evaluation should be compared to what is done in Chapter XIV about student evaluation.The generality of the structuring principles should then clearly emerge.back to text

4) In fact, it is probably becausem some years earlier, the teachers had made the "quantity" argument that the school system had adopted a salary schedule.back to text

5) In so far as in most situations the exact phrasing is not prescribed, to use the concept of "formula" may be improper. Technically, a formula is "a group of words which is regularly employed under the same metrical conditions to express a given essential idea" (M. Parry, as quoted in Lord, 1960: 30). The people in the school did not speak in verse. Their utterances were not under metrical constraints. A new technical term might be needed here to designate performative constraints of natural speech (e.g., the need for brevity; the need to start a syntagmatic chain somewhere, etc.).back to text

6) The symbol rewrite as must be read "can be rewritten as." This symbolization will help formalize the analysis. It presents it in a starker manner than is usual in ethnographies of cultural patterns. This has the advantage of making the results of the analysis more immediately visible. Later, it will also help to deal more economicaly with complex matters concerning the interaction between the various units. back to text