Monday, March 17, 2014

SOLSC #17 Observing teachers

I am posting every day during March as part of the annual "Slice of LifeChallenge for Two Writing Teachers.  Check out their website for lots more reflections on teaching.


Here we go again, another snow day here in the Washington, D.C. area. I've lost track of how many days off we have had this year. I can't remember when we've had a full week of school, five days without something breaking it up -
professional days, holidays, snow days. It has been an unsettled year.

My spring observation was supposed to be this morning -
9:15 a.m., 45 minutes,
observing me in whole group and small group.

We are evaluated by "CLASS" and the observer is noting:

  • the overall climate in the room, whether there is positive communication and respect between children, children and teachers, and teachers themselves;
  • teacher's sensitivity, awareness, responsiveness to students and issues in the classroom;
  • is there regard for student perspectives, student expression and individuality supported?
  • what is the behavior management, is there proactive and redirection of misbehavior? 
  • overall "productivity" - whether the teacher is prepared, are there clear routines, do children know what they are to do?
  • the instruction - are there varied modalities, clear learning objectives, and student interest?
  • and how rich is the teaching itself? Does the teacher develop concepts, give feedback, ask open-ended questions, use advanced language?
I consider myself lucky that I work for a school where these formal observations aren't surprises. Certainly, there are surprise appearances by people, pretty much every day - anyone can walk in at any time, all the time, and observe. Our doors are always open. But the graded appraisal is taken with advanced warning - the teacher knows when the evaluator is coming and you can plan lessons to support your best teaching self.

In most DC public schools, these evaluations are not scheduled in advance - on any given day, your evaluator can walk in and begin assessing your teaching. I fail my Teaching Resident in my inability to speak to how to prepare for these. I often wonder what other professional fields have surprise observations. Do supervisors walk in on doctors and evaluate how well they are doing? How is their bedside manner? How long are patients waiting? There is something about this element of surprise - kind of a 'gotcha!' - that seems demeaning to me, demeaning to teachers, makes it seem less a respected profession.

And, yet, conversely, why not have surprise observations? Every day is fodder for an observation! No two days are identical and yet all have common threads. I'm prepared. I'm ready to be in the presence of children. I am happy and welcoming to the children in my classroom.  I am ready to build on what we have been doing.

So, the snow day gives me another day to think. Another day to get ready. When the children come to school tomorrow, it will have been five days since we have seen each other.

I'm ready to spend time with my preschoolers again!

(A daily share by preschoolers in their own words)
A Story Collage by Julian

     My Mommy went to the coop and then the monster truck was right behind Mommy and he got mean to Mommy and a rainstorm came all the way down to the clouds and it went “shhhhhhhh!” and it scared the monster away. The monster said “Rahhh!” And the dragon is over here, next to the big cloud and the rainstorm is coming down at the monster, big giant truck. Then the big house fall onto the coop and Mommy hurt herself. And then a monster with a big horn bicycle. The End


  1. I actually prefer the spontaneous ones. Perhaps it is because I feel like the bar can be set so high when they are announced. Is there any room allowed for error when you can plan exactly what could/should happen?

    I hope you aren't in school until July with all of your snow days!

  2. I never thought about this: "what other professional fields have surprise observations." What would that look like for a doctor? I agree and I appreciate that CLASS observations are scheduled. Mine is tomorrow and I don't know why but I am numb to it. I am usually anxious about the evaluation. Tomorrow, I will probably be more anxious. When our principal asked for a day to observe, I said any day. Basically because I want that real time feedback. I want to know on any given day am I doing my best work. Sometimes, honestly I'm not. There are days when I just didn't feel well, when I was too tired or even too overwhelmed to adjust a lesson midstream. I am glad you mentioned both sides of this issues because there really are pros and cons.

  3. "And, yet, conversely, why not have surprise observations? Every day is fodder for an observation! No two days are identical and yet all have common threads." so true. What an interesting reflection. :)