Yesterday I was on our Instagram page and I came across a graphic that was posted by @teachstagrams. I pondered it for a while since it was so on target, it was a little unnerving. While there are a ton of teacher observation tips out there, the fact that this struggle is SO REAL is very telling of the current system in place:
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As teachers, we constantly worry if we’re doing enough for our students. We know about their side stories and their home lives and the struggles that they have, be it learning or family or whether they have enough to eat for lunch. Most teachers try to take each and every one of these issues into mind when drafting a lesson or reacting to a student in the classroom. We know our students, inside and out, and we know that some of them are going to naturally have a more difficult time than others. On the other end of the spectrum, we know we have the “high flyers” that also must have their needs met in order to keep them challenged. It is a balancing act to make sure everyone is getting what they need in the classroom, us as teachers included.
However, there are teachers out there that don’t do any of this. Just as in any profession, there are bad eggs out there that make a bad name for the rest of us. About a decade ago, it was unfortunate but not much could be done. Then, education, as we know it today, began to surface. Teacher observation procedures changed and, even though it was great to pinpoint those teachers that are not keeping up-to-date with their practices, it also dumped heaps of undue stress on those who are doing their best for every student. While one administrator might give you some teacher observation tips for next time, the next administrator might not think those are as important. How is it possible to register on the same page with everyone?
It’s no secret that the role of the teacher has changed. Many things that used to be expected to be taught in the home are creeping onto teachers plates as expectations of lessons that should also be taken care of in the classroom…all this on top of an ever-growing content-based curriculum as well. There used to be an understanding that there was a responsibility on the student to perform at an appropriate, grade-based level. Somewhere along the line, it became a direct reflection on the teacher if that performance was not where it should be. While yes, there are certainly teachers out there that are not effective in their execution, there are many more that are and are doing the best they can in a system that expects a teacher to do it all with however many students are staring back at them (and in some places, like what came to surface in Los Angeles, can be as many as 46 students!).
On top of the stress of this, now it is required for administrators to come and do extremely detailed observations, often unannounced, but only last for a set period of time (which is often not terribly long). While I understand that an unannounced observation can “catch” a poorly planned teacher, it can also be a “gotcha” moment for a teacher that was taking some time to do something off task for their class or maybe addressing an issue that isn’t on the lesson plan. While there are many administrators out there that would be very understanding of this, there are also plenty that are not, and a teacher’s rating can suffer because of what a few unannounced minutes looked like.
Those minutes might be at the beginning of something that will have a glorious, tie-it-all-together ending, but the administrator already left. I was told by an administrator once that sometimes parts of lessons can’t be rated highly because it is just a snippet of the bigger picture, but that is what is observed. That’s all well and good, but what if it just so happens that those “snippets” are the only times an administrator sees what is going on in a classroom?
It doesn’t look good.
I am HOPING most of you are reading this and are astounded to hear that there are some administrators out there that only pop into a classroom to do an observation. I am HOPING that most of your students don’t find it odd that there is someone else in the classroom and that it is normal. I am HOPING that most of your administrators have a really good grasp on what you do in the classroom from multiple encounters they have had, not just what is “formal”.
The reality is, there are many, MANY schools where that is not the case…and that is something that needs to be addressed.
We are at a really interesting time in the educational field. I like to think the pendulum has swung as far as it can go in this “teacher bashing” system and is peaking and about to start swinging back. There are many signs that this is the case. However, there are also many places that are very antiquated in their systems, and that is concerning.
No matter what end of the teacher observation spectrum you land, the reality is that teachers should be checked in the classroom to make sure what they are doing is okay. There is nothing wrong with an extra set of eyes making suggestions on how to many something magical even better. I hope that most of you are in a positive environment where this is the case. Either way, teacher observations are stressful and sometimes, all you can do is laugh about it…..
Teacher Observation Tips: Student-Centered Learning
Unfortunately, when it comes to teaching, we can’t just read a how-to book like some genres of the corporate world. However, there are some things that can be taught in your classroom that make it a little less stressful when an administrator does pop into your classroom to do a formal teacher observation. Having your students trained to be self-directed is a really great start. While it might be daunting at first, creating a classroom environment where the students know they need to be on task at all times in order to get the job done automatically guarantees that when you are observed, you will get marks for your students being engaged and working. Hands-on activities being normalized in the classroom will make it just any other day when an administrator walks in, not just lucky timing for a dog and pony show. Believe it or not, I have had times where my students were so involved with what they were working on, they didn’t even realize there was an administrator in the room until she walked over to them. Because of this very fact, my students were able to explain, in detail, what they were doing and why they were doing it (which also scores big points).
Listening to these teacher observation tips might seem like a pipe dream. On one hand, they may seem a bit vague. However, it is important to understand that everyone’s classroom is different because the dynamic of YOUR students is different than anyone else’s. The vision and implementation of student-centered learning in your classroom will be just slightly different than mine because it will naturally differentiate for each and every one of your students as individuals. I am not saying this is something you can try to set up when you hear the whispers that the admins are going to be coming around later in the week. This is a classroom culture that needs to be created. It takes some time, but once it’s set, it runs on autopilot. If you’re doubting the process, I PROMISE you that it can work in your classroom. These aren’t just teacher observation tips that will help you do a little dance in front of someone who is deciding your merit as a teacher; it is a culture shift in your classroom that will help you to land the observation scores you desire and will have a classroom that is functioning in the 21st century.