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I was one of those teachers who always hated beingobserved. Now that I am a Director of Studies and anobserver I realize that there are many teachers who dis-like observations and are often reluctant to admit it asthey are always being told that observations are in theirbest interest.
We try to convince teachers that as much asthey may seem otherwise, observations are not inspections. The observer’s main task is to help them improve as teach-ers and for that, they should be thankful. And if they acceptthat the observer is there to help them improve, they cer-tainly cannot be blind to the fact that observers are notdriven by altruism but the need to maintain and improve thequality of instruction at the institutions that employ them. The inescapable fact is that observations are usually donefor two reasons, quality control and teacher development,but trying to effectively achieve both these aims in the samelesson is pointless.
Observations where the specific lesson to be observed isnegotiated between teacher and observer involve theteachers’ participation in the process and thus are morelikely to be construed as cooperative, furthering the notionthat the observation may be about teacher development.However, even if the observer promises that a written reportwill not be filed, the teacher will have difficulty not seeingthe observer as a superior who is there to evaluate them asteachers. After all, even if the sole stated purpose is teacherdevelopment, the observer will have to evaluate the lessonin order to discuss it. And most relatively inexperiencedteachers will have problems ignoring the possibility that abad performance may warrant them being given the statusof questionable instructors, even if it is only in the observersmind. Consequently, teachers will usually try to present thebest lesson they can, preparation time will far exceed whatoccurs before a normal lesson and areas where the teachermay have difficulty (i.e., explaining grammar) will be avoided.It makes sense that the optimum lesson for teacherevaluation is a lesson that is as close to a perceived notionof perfection as possible. If this can be achieved then theobserver and the school will be delighted to have in theiremploy such a superb instructor, and that teacher mayenjoy favourable status at that institution. The teacher, of course, should be ecstatic and could benefit professionallyand personally from the vote of confidence from theobserver. The dilemma is that for teacher development the mostdesirable outcome is that the teacher presents his/herworst possible lesson. Rather than avoiding all the thingshe/she doesn’t do well, all of them should be included inone lesson. This is the optimum for teacher development asit gives the observer and teacher a chance to address theteacher’s weaknesses and discuss strategies forimprovement.Obviously, an average lesson would feature neither allthe strengths nor all the weaknesses of any teacher. Anaverage lesson would be the best to observe because itshould be a more balanced display of strengths andweaknesses and it would be most representative of whatactually occurs daily in the classroom. However, as long asthe notion remains that the teacher is going to be evaluatedby the observer, it is unlikely that a pre-arrangedobservation would present the observer with anything otherthan that “special” lesson created just for his/her presence.
Having an observer “drop in” to a class without prior noticehas a distinct advantage as he/she would be in a positionto observe what would likely be a teacher’s typical lesson.Since very few teachers spend as much time planning les-sons as they did on their training courses or for pre-arranged observations, the unannounced observation canhelp the teacher improve aspects of their lesson relative tothe amount of time that realistically was (or should havebeen) spent on planning it. This is taking for granted theobserver is realistic about how much time teachers canspend planning. Also, in day-to-day teaching, less planningmeans more reliance on in-class performance and theunannounced observation allows the observer to help theteacher focus on their in-class teaching techniques. Forexample, teachers who have trouble giving clear instruc-tions can write them out beforehand but this is only a short-term solution as the ideal remedy is awareness of some
EF’S NEWSLETTER FORTEACHERS
Do you dislike being observed?
Welcome to EF’snewsletter for teachersaround the globe!
In this issue, wetake an in-depth lookat the complex topic of teaching observations. KenLackman, AcademicDirector at EF’sInternational LanguageSchool in Toronto, shareshis experience andexplores innovative ways toimprove this criticalcomponent of professionaldevelopment. We hopeyou find useful ideas foryour own practice.
Professional DevelopmentCoordinator, London, UK