The Joy of Being Observed

Today, I’m going to broach the subject of classroom observations.

Before I get into this please understand that these are my thoughts on the subject. I am under no illusion that I am right. I might be very, very wrong and I accept the possibility that I might be. Plus I am no longer teaching full-time, so I have the benefit of distance…

(Please read my disclaimer)

I’m really not particularly fussed about classroom observations.

There, I said it 🙂

As far as I’m concerned, anyone can sit in my classroom at any time if they want to do so. Obviously there are better times than others, and some classes that you wish no-one ever ever get a glimpse of, but on the whole, I’m not fussed.

I know that I am a good teacher, but I am human.

Most days are good, some are excellent and a few are bad. Occasionally I have such hideous days that I never want to set foot in a school again, but those days are so rare that I can dismiss them (after a bottle of Red). I think this is perfectly normal.

The majority of people, not just teachers, sit in this pocket. This, I think, is the profile of someone who really likes their chosen job/profession. In my own life, if this balance changes, I reassess my life choices, which explains the different career paths I have enjoyed.

A while back, I decided that instead of being so grumpy all the time about life, I was going to train myself to look for the positive in things. Sometimes, I forget to do so, sometimes I have to work really really hard, it’s exhausting, but on the whole, when I feel myself falling into that pit of hate or despair, I find that bloody silver lining and I cling to it.

I work on the principle that anyone who expects a teacher to deliver every single lesson perfectly, with absolutely no errors of any kind, is an unreasonable person who doesn’t understand what it means to be human. I try not to fear criticism, and I don’t always take it on the chin immediately, but ultimately, if the criticism is constructive, why not take it on board? If I make mistakes, I hold my hand up and admit it. If the critisicm is unfair or just wrong, I will point it out and say why I believe it to be so.

A few years ago, by some twist of fate, (or a very astute move, by someone who absolutely trusted and supported me) it was decided that I would be observed by someone in authority, who really disliked me.

And I mean, really disliked me.

(get me drunk and I might let slip some stories 🙂 ).

At first I was annoyed, but then I thought, sod it! No matter what happens, they’ll try to find a way to make me look bad, so I decided to treat it as a normal lesson and not do anything special. If they wanted to take me down, I would be in MY comfort zone while they tried to do it.

I am confident in my teaching ability. I am confident in my rapport with my classes to know that they wouldn’t deliberately act out of character. I am confident in my knowledge of my subject and absolutely loved being in my classroom.

Whatever my observer wanted to do, however they decided to act, made absolutely no difference to me, because everything I did in a classroom had been thought out, admittedly, occasionally it could be a rushed thought process, but mostly it was considered rationale, based on data, not conjecture.

I let my observer know that they could observe any lesson they wished. I said which lessons would be most interesting for them (some lessons that week were going to be past paper lessons). A lesson was agreed, then I simply forgot all about it and went on with my job. Then one day, they appeared in my classroom and apart from the malevolent  darkness they exuded :), it was a normal lesson. It turned out it was a very good lesson, but even if it hadn’t turned out so well, it wouldn’t have made a difference.

You see, I own what I do in the classroom.

Even the mistakes.

The greatest piece of advice I got from the amazing James Burch (info here and here ) was to be a reflective teacher. If something goes wrong, reflect on why and adapt.

I know that when two people disagree the truth of the matter is usually somewhere in the middle. I was interested to see what the observer would focus on and how they would frame their criticism. I also prepared myself for the fact that there would be criticism, some of which would be warranted, and some which would not be. But I had my rationale and data, so I was confident I can hold my own in any conversation.

Everyone views the world through their own agendas. If someone believes you are a bad teacher, they will ignore all the things that contradict this view and focus on the things that confirm it. There’s absolutely nothing you can do about that. You are unable to change their viewpoint, but if you can explain your rationale (and especially if you can back it up with data), you’ve done all you can. If you have neither rationale nor data, listen to them, they might have a point. Either way, you have an opportunity to grow and develop as a human being.

Anyway, then came the feedback session and the observer spent around 85% of the time focussing on something they saw in a marked exercise book and I mean obsessively focussed. This made me happy, that was the only thing they could pinpoint and it was so small and insignificant. I knew that after they’d actually seen me teach and signed the form, they could no longer make snide comments about the quality of my teaching.

Most of my personal growth on that day was demonstrated by my ability to stop myself from punching my observer in the face for being such a dick, and I’m actually  proud of myself for that 🙂

I never said I was perfect, just human 🙂

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