I always give my best. I know I’m not perfect, but I’d like to think that I treat every class as an observation class. Why? Because every day could be that day: the day where something “clicks” for the students; the day a student jumps from one level of comprehension to the next; the day where something magical happens. Perhaps that’s why I don’t get nervous anymore when I’m being observed, whether it be announced or not that a senior teacher (or a group of them) is coming to my class – I trained myself to think that I’m always “being watched”.
In my teaching experience, I’ve seen and been subject to a few different evaluation methods. I’ve had both announced and unannounced single and group teacher observations amongst others, making perhaps the only method yet to be had the one-way mirror evaluation… Of those, two notable ones stand out: drop-in group teacher observations, and semi-announced single-teacher observations.
Teaching in Japanese public schools exposed me to the drop-in group observation experience. In this system, a series of dates are set up where teachers are subject to have other staff and members of the administration drop in to observe their class (and if they’re really lucky, even teachers from other schools will show up). This becomes a hit-and-miss stress-fest for many teachers as they will spend several hours prepping for a class that (sometimes) will have no audience to impress. For many the result is a sigh of relief, but in terms of practicality it really is detrimental to the entire system as teachers receive no feedback on their lessons.
The caveat to this approach is that teachers are not assigned to observe any specific class; they are expected to use their free hours to attend other teachers’ classes. Naturally, some teachers will take the chance to observe their peers and fill out the pre-made feedback forms, but more often than not teachers are busy preparing their next lessons, grading, or doing other busy work that prevents them from evaluating their co-workers. What this leads to is a potential situation where teachers spend a whole year teaching without anyone to evaluate or give them feedback (or the opposite, where “popular” teachers will have a host of staff standing in the back of the room nodding and scribbling notes trying to improve their own practices).
In contrast to this, I was most recently subject to the semi-announced observation class. In this approach, I was told that “sometime during the next two weeks” I would be visited by my principal and by my head of department, independently. As their schedules were busy, there was no way to know when they could come, but I should expect them to drop in to any class.
I can see this being even more stressful for the previously mentioned group of teachers (as well as many others who teach day-by-day). It would be favorable in terms of preparation time to be able to prepare for one pre-assigned date and get it over with, but when you have a range of dates to deal with, a teacher would have to make sure that a solid two weeks of classes are ready to go. For me however, it wasn’t an issue.
Of course I know that in an ideal world teachers would have the entire year mapped out and ready to impart to students, but the reality of the situation is different: often teachers are scrambling the day before to finalize the next day’s lessons points and making sure tasks are appropriately defined for students. Yet for this same reason I actually feel encouraged to continue this method of evaluation. I feel that it has the best of both worlds: a general time to expect an evaluation, and enough realism to elicit a real-life response situation in a classroom.
One of my biggest criticisms of scheduled evaluations is that teachers have too much time to prep themselves and their students to show the “perfect” class, and escape any real instruction or interaction. I have witnessed sub-par teachers skate by any real evaluation and continue to impart dismal lessons, all because administration saw they “performed well” during the one designated hour of the year. This to me is not acceptable, and I believe it is the reason many teachers are not called out on their questionable practices.
While I know no system or individual is perfect, in the end, I believe teacher evaluations (and thus, constructive feedback) should be ongoing and routine. I think teachers should have more dedicated time to observe their peers, give them feedback and learn from each other. A music teacher could learn from a science teacher, a P.E. teacher from a social sciences teacher, a math teacher from a Spanish teacher.
Image borrowed from: http://neatoday.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/releasing_teacher_evaluation_data.jpg