Business First: Teachers of Merit

June 6, 2013 Updated Jun 6, 2013 at 7:51 AM EDT

By G. Scott Thomas, Projects Editor- Business First


Business First: Teachers of Merit

June 6, 2013 Updated Jun 6, 2013 at 7:51 AM EDT

One of the best ways to measure a teacher's performance is to ask his or her students what's happening in the classroom.

That's the conclusion of a three-year study released in January by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Researchers found that students are remarkably accurate in assessing a teacher's ability to explain new concepts clearly or to maintain firm control over a class.

"Student-perception surveys provide a reliable indicator of the learning environment and give voice to the intended beneficiaries of instruction," said the report, which recommended the incorporation of student feedback into teachers' annual performance reviews.

The same principle lies behind Business First's Teachers of Merit program, which is now in its third year.

Students nominated for the All-Western New York Academic Team -- more than 400 top-flight high school seniors -- are asked each fall to identify the best teachers they've had during their 13 years in school.

Teachers who are named by multiple students over a three-year period move on to the final phase of the selection process. Preference is given to educators who have earned other national and state teaching awards, attained national board certification, helped produce impressive scores on standardized tests and Business First's own subject ratings, and/or won championships as sports coaches or music directors.

There is no single path to success. The backgrounds of this year's 25 Teachers of Merit vary widely:

School size: Dallas Belge and Neil Lange teach in Western New York's largest school system, Buffalo (30,831 students from kindergarten through 12th grade). Karen Estabrook works in one of the smallest districts, Scio (349 students).

Grade levels: Betsey Bradley and Anne Gervaise teach third graders in Franklinville and Royalton-Hartland, respectively. Several Teachers of Merit conduct advanced placement courses for high school seniors.

Experience: Six honorees first stepped in front of a classroom in the 1970s, led by Sheila Harris in 1971 and Rick Merritt and John Schneider Jr. in 1976. Four began their careers in the 21st century, with Kate Carretto in 2003 and Bradley in 2004 the most recent.

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