An Observation

imageI had my formal observation on Tuesday. After 31 years of teaching, I still find myself becoming a bit nervous about how my teaching skills are perceived. Or, executed. It doesn’t matter that I have my National Board of Professional Teaching Standards certificate, which is a big name for a process requiring a lot of navel gazing, or that I have had a Masters of Science degree in Elementary Education for more than twenty years. I still want to be the best teacher our Assistant Principal has ever seen.

It occurred to me as I drove to work that morning, that we are being observed every day. It ought not to matter that a specific hour of a certain day has been set aside for formal documentation of a lesson. I teach from 9:05 until 3:35 five days a week, from August to May. And then I live the rest of my life.

When I am driving in the hideous traffic with people cutting me off, or pulling out unexpectedly, my gestures are observed. When my sweet and elderly neighbor comes out of her house every single time we come out of ours, wishing for at least a conversation if not a cup of tea, I am observed. When my husband rearranges the dishwasher, questioning my spatial reasoning skills which were fully adequate for the thirty years before we married, I am observed.

Sometimes, I am not worthy of the observation.

I read the documentation of my lesson, and saw, “a student in the back intertwined his legs throughout the rungs of his chair. Two students were fighting over a pair of glasses off to the side.” I didn’t even see those things! I was so busy ascertaining the class’s understanding of the objective, while trying to instill enthusiasm, that certain activities completely escaped me. What kind of teacher am I? I wondered, distraught at the particulars of the write up.

But when we talked, Robert said that I am an excellent teacher.  “The energy in the room is palatable, the kids are dying to learn. They’re jumping out of their seats and standing on chairs so eager to participate. You’re like that guy, what’s his name, Mork, in Dead Poet’s Society.”

Apparently, sometimes my actions are good. Often they’re better than I myself might think they are. But there is always the fact that people are watching, and that I want to produce my best. Even if there is a gap between my expectation and the actual result.

“A strange and unpredictable breach will always exist between what we want to make and what we are able to make.” -Anthony Doerr

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18 thoughts on “An Observation”

  1. Loved your post, so very proud of you, great reference to Dead Poets etc. what a strong contribution you make. I know what you mean about the watching! But that scripture right!,

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    1. You also know how I’ve never liked being watched. I prefer to stay in the sidelines, behind doors, or incognito whenever possible. But, it occurred to me that we are all watched every day, not necessarily for professional reasons, but certainly with a certain amount of judgement by those around us. I always want to prove pleasing in His sight.

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  2. M, I was just informed today that I will be formally observed sometime in the next few weeks, and even if I know that nothing bad can happen, I am still nervous… and even if I know that stress and worry does not help us at all. Wish me luck! 🙂 Being compared with such an inspiring character is something to dream of 🙂 Congrats!

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    1. I don’t think that the nervousness every completely goes away, at least for those of us who are conscientious about what we do. You’re right, nothing bad can happen. Nothing beyond our own judgement, that is, and sometimes that is the hardest judgement to accept.

      Now I want to watch Dead Poets’ Society again; I’ve forgotten so much of it. But, the films of great teaching, such as that or Stand and Deliver make me shiver with excitement to be part of such a powerful profession.

      You will do well on your observation. I would love to be in one of your classes.

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    1. Even your comments are poetry…there’s something about our unobserved moments that mark who we are, indeed. I shudder to think of those times that I’ve lost my patience and burst out instead of controlling my tongue. Surely it is the sharpest weapon I own.

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    1. I like to think that I offer them freedom of expression, freedom from confining thought where only the teacher’s way is correct. How horrible is that?! I grew up in a school system where students were not allowed to be individuals, where the sky could only be colored blue as I like to say. It was stifling, and therefore part of the reason I decided to be a teacher myself.

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  3. Is it possible not to be conscious of the observer when you are teaching and knows the observer is observing you?
    You become so involved in your teaching and you become unaware of everything around you?

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    1. Fortunately, I feel close to this observer, and so comfortable that I was able to “ignore” his presence after a few minutes. And yes, I have become so absorbed in a lesson that a few miscreants have gone unnoticed. I figure I’ll get those who slip through the cracks in a subsequent lesson, but I can’t always stop the momentum of a lesson for a few who aren’t as involved as they should be.

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  4. Every good observer knows about the effect of the observer on participants. My goodness — even when I was taking social work classes in the 1970s, that was an acknowledged reality. Here’s the wonderful irony: the better the observer, the more he or she will be aware of being observed: in this case, by your students. That can raise some anxieties, too, I would think.

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    1. You hit on an interesting point: the better the observer, the more he will be aware of being observed. i wonder if the observer in this case even noticed the students watching him. Probably not. He was very busy dictating the lesson into a microphone, which would then be transcribed by some app on his phone. Goodness sake, the longer I teach, the more I miss the days gone by. Things were very clear cut and simple then. Roles and their function seemed more clearly defined. Expectations seemed fewer and more realistic. But, maybe that’s just me.

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