Saturday, May 2, 2009

Teacher Observations

I have taught at both public and private schools . And there were, obviously, many differences between the two types of institutions. I have to say that maybe the greatest farce of public schooling has been the way in which teacher observations have been used by administrators. Please know that I've not had 'problems' with administrators. I work at a high paying, high performing public school and teach largely motivated students--it's quite nice. But I've always been intrigued and, at times, disturbed by the discrpencies between perception and reality vis a vis teacher performance. I have seen many good teachers get 'bad' write ups and vice versa. True enough, that being a 'good teacher' is a subjective judgement but regardless of what your personal opinion of good or bad teaching is, there is an inevitable farce that can occur during an observation.

If you assume that an observation is supposed to asses the normal conditions/teaching styles that occur on a daily basis, there is an immediate obvious problem: as soon as a strange person with a suite and tie or as soon as a well known administrator with a suit and tie enters your classroom... guess what? Students suprisingly do not act naturally. Of course, there are some exceptions--some students could care less whether or not principal is in the next seat, but those kids are rare. I know of classes that behaved great during an observation on a teacher--even though the students were known to dislike the teacher and believe that the said teacher was very very bad at teaching. And I know of examples where students interacted quite disrespectfully while a teacher who was quite respected was teaching.

So what can we draw from these observations?....that a teacher's control of a class or rapport with a class cannot be accurately assessed by an external observer who surprises the class by a once or twice a year visit.


  1. Formal evaluations are just crazy. Students know that the teacher is being observed, and the whole process is so artificial. I think that a warm feeling tone in a building works better. This is where principals get to know the teachers and students and visit rooms on a regular basis. Then, it just seems normal for them to be there, so life goes on as usual. Sitting down with a pad and pen isn't necessary.

  2. I agree with you--informal frequent visits would be nice and more valid but I've never personally been in a school where that is the norm.

    At the public schools where i've worked, administrators seem overwhelmed and can barely handle getting in what few observations they actually do.

  3. I also taught in public school, and most of the time we had uncomfortable, formal evaluations too. One year my principal really did include the "pal" in the school year, visited often, and somehow make it work with her other duties. It was the best year ever.

  4. IT's a rare administrator indeed who is willing to commit that kind of least you had 1 good year! And to a certain extent, I can understand an administrator getting overwhelmed--the job seems overwhelming. But what baffles me are the administrators who seem to forget what it's actually like (the good and the challenging) to be a teacher.