Like every semester, I have just started a round of classroom observations. I’m required to see each English teacher in our department at least once in six months, which has been part of my job since Septemeber 2014. The main purpose of the observations is to help my colleagues to improve their teaching. However, officially, the observations are also conducted for the purposes of job-performance evaluation.
One of the problems related to both aforementioned purposes is that some of my colleagues have been teaching for a longer period of time than I have. In effect, there’s only one teacher who’s got less teaching experience than me. This, obviously, makes me feel slightly uncomfortable. I mean, it’s ok when you do peer observation; the amount of experience doesn’t really matter because you’re both in equal positions. However, once you’re in a situation when the observee feels they must perform well because their performance will later be reflected in the overall evaluation, such a type of observation will never be seen as a genuine tool for professional development.
Here’s what I’ve been doing to diminish the impact of the inequality inherent to every formal observation. When observing a lesson, I take a lot of notes on a separate sheet of paper, but eventually, I have to summarize, and, to a certain extent, depersonalize, the feedback by transferring it onto a prescribed template. There’s lots of ticking there, which, to my mind, is a chore and doesn’t really say much about the actual lesson, and there are boxes where I’m supposed to record the amount of TTT as opposed to STT. This is noted down in the form of a percentage. But how could I possibly measure this accurately? Needless to say, I don’t bring along a stopwatch, which, by the way, might be a great idea, except that it would scare the teacher as well as the students, plus it would probably cast doubt upon my sanity.
Anyway, most of my colleagues already know that the ‘ideal’ ratio of TTT to STT is around 30% to 70 %. In other words, students should be engaged in plenty of speaking activities (if it’s not a writing lesson, for example). So, if there’s a decent amount of meaningful pair/group work, the observee will get the ideal ratio. Once I feel there’s space for improvement in this area, I leave the box empty.
Another thing that makes me feel somewhat uncomfortable is the two boxes titled POSITIVES and NEGATIVES. For one, they are too small. If I could design a new template, I’d definitely make them much larger and I’d rename the NEGATIVES one. I was thinking of something like THINGS TO CONSIDER instead. This sounds much better, but most importantly, it’s more acceptable for the observee, who might otherwise feel as if being criticized or even reprimanded.
When sharing feedback with the observee after the lesson, I take advantage of the separate piece of paper where there are all the ‘negatives’ (not called negatives). Eventually, I only copy the conclusions into the POSITIVES box and I leave the other one empty.
There’s also one more thing that bothers me and that is the final ‘grade’ the observee is supposed to get from me. The range is from outstanding to poor. I believe grading the observee’s performance in this way is not the best thing an observer can do. Not only is such a simplified conclusion very subjective and says nothing about the lesson, but anything except outstanding will always be somewhat discouraging for a professional, let alone a highly experienced one. So I also leave this box empty. Sue me.