Thursday, September 25, 2008

under the microscope

I had my first classroom observation today. The first. Ever.

I'm in my fourth year of teaching, but I didn't take a normal route to the classroom. I took one education class at my community college; I decided then that I didn't want to be a teacher. In my second year at NC, my then-boss asked me to start a writing class for our international seniors. The next year, I began teaching ESL. I've worked my way up to two ESL classes, yearbook, speech, and a study hall that may as well be biology. (Trust me, I'm not too effective as a biology teacher!)

Since I never had any formal teacher training, I missed out on the whole student teaching experience. I don't know why I was never observed in the past three years, but I wasn't.

This year, my boss decided to be more intentional about getting into the classroom--and today, it was my turn to be observed. While I wasn't overly nervous about it, it had been on my mind all week. We're in the middle of a parts of speech overview in my Intermediate ESL class, and at the end of last week, I realized that today would be the day we'd get to articles. I love teaching articles, as I've taught them for the past four years, and I really feel confident in my lesson.

So yesterday, I gave a pronoun quiz . . . and when I graded the quiz, I realized that my class didn't understand pronouns as well as I thought they did. I thought about spending today's class fully explaining pronouns--but then I would have had to go into subjective and objective case, and they don't have a clue about objects or predicate nouns or anything like that yet. At midnight, I still didn't know what I was going to do today.

I finally decided to go over pronouns a little bit, then introduce articles. Today was also the day for the weekly vocab quiz and journaling, so I figured I'd have enough material for the 50 minutes. I got everything laid out on my desk in the order I'd need it--much more organized than normal!

Then my boss walked into the room. I still didn't have butterflies, but my hands started shaking! The opening, quiz, and pronoun lesson went well. Then I went to start on articles and couldn't find my notes! My heart seriously stopped. Inside, I was totally panicking, although I think I covered pretty well by moving on to the journal assignment. As the students wrote down the assignment, I found my notes . . . exactly where they were supposed to be. The articles lesson went pretty well, but we still had about 10 minutes left, so I gave them study time. I hope that was OK . . .

My boss left with a couple minutes of class time remaining, and I felt like a giant weight had been lifted. After class, I ran into another teacher in the hall, and she asked if the boss had been observing me. When I told her he had, she said she always feels sick when he walks into her classroom--and she's been teaching for 20-some years!

I'm SO glad it's over, though I'm not too excited about reading the evaluation. (He has plenty of material--he brought his laptop in, and he was typing the entire time he was in the room.)

I hope this observation thing doesn't happen very often!


  1. Pass this on to the boss:

    There is a new observation approach, called Data-Based Observations. It includes a process that starts with asking the teacher "What would you like to know about your classroom?" In that discussion, you collaboratively identify observable behaviors that you want to have some objective data on, such as your attention to boys/girls, level of questions you ask, how much the students are on-talk, where in the room do you spend most of your time, how do you respond to call-outs or misbehavior, etc.

    Then, using the eCOVE Classroom Observation Software, objective data is collected. The software includes 40 timer and counter tools that will provide data for your reflection.

    In the post conference, he/she should ask this question: "Is this what you thought was happening in your classroom?" This avoids the subjective judgmental comments and lets you look at your classroom in a new light.

    You can decide to make a change, and that can be the basis of another professional level discussion. A date is set for follow up data collection to see if your change is working.

    The benefit of this is that you don't have to worry about the 'evaluation' and are treated as a professional, capable of reflection and problem solving.

    More about all this at my blog: Data-Based Classroom Observation.

    You or she/he can download the software at eCOVE Software

    Peace, John

    PS. I wrote it after 30 years in education. COVE stands for Collaborate, Observe, Value, Empower


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