Whether it is an unannounced drop by visit, or a carefully scheduled event, being observed can send cold chills and hot panic up and down a teacher’s spine.
My first real teaching job in which I had to plan all the lessons and was solely responsible for teaching, was for a company in Japan. This company sent teachers all over the Chiba area near Tokyo and maybe because we were so spread out, they liked to keep a close eye on us. A team of supervisors was sent out regularly to observe us, ostensibly to make sure our teaching was up to company standards, in reality they were gathering materials for a book they were creating, but that is another story.
Each and every time I was observed in those early days of teaching would make me break out in a cold sweat and send me home to spend hours attempting to create the perfect lesson plan, something so bulletproof they would leave singing my praises and giving me a raise. This of course never happened and my bubble was consistently burst by feedback like “Your warm up was 30 seconds too long.”
These observations took place more or less every week.
I remember chafing against them at the time and becoming increasingly resentful about them but they did teach me many valuable things about being observed.
1. Your students are your allies!
This was one of the most delightful discoveries I made while being observed. Students, even ones who were struggling and didn’t always behave themselves perfectly in class, wanted me to succeed. Often lessons in which I was being observed were the smoothest, “best” lessons of my week because students didn’t want to make me look bad. My often very shy students would volunteer to answer questions, everyone remained focused and tried to follow instructions to the best of their abilities and after wards, we all breathed a sigh of relief and congratulated each other. I always introduced the observer to my students and told them why they were there so they could help me out.
2. Get Your Observer Involved in the Class
If you are teaching an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) class your challenge is probably going to be getting your students to stay in the target language. Discuss this with your observer and share with him/her the strategies you have been using. You might even want to ask your observer to become your partner and observe what is working and what isn’t. I often ask my observers if they are comfortable participating in small group or pair work. I find they have a lot more fun if they are interacting with the students and they get a better feel for what the activities are.
I once had a whole class of teachers-in-training observe my class, I think there were at least as many of them as my own students so when it came time to do small group activities I made every group half visitors and half students. Everyone loved it! I got feedback months later on the final day of class that that was one of their favorite days.
For strategies to get your students to speak English in class check out this post.
3. Get Students Used to Regular Activities Before you are Observed
If you are teaching an ESL (English as a Second Language) class your challenge might be to get students from very different backgrounds and levels to work together and understand both your instructions and the material. You probably won’t be observed on the very first day of class, so make sure you have several warm ups, activities and wrap ups your students are used to, so when you are observed, you don’t have to spend a lot of time explaining what you want them to do. Observation days are probably not the time to introduce totally new activities to class unless you really want feedback on this experimental thing you are trying out.
For some inspiration on activities and warm ups check out these posts!
4. Don't Try to Plan the "Perfect Lesson"
Be prepared, plan your lesson well, make sure all of your materials are in order, then stop and go to bed!
Your teaching shouldn’t totally transform on days when you are being observed. Make sure you have set up solid classroom routines and students know what to expect when they start class. That way you can jump right in and get started with confidence. Know that your lesson will not be perfect, there may be some hiccups and that is totally OK. You are human, your students are human and someone will make a mistake at some point. It would be really weird and unnatural if they didn’t. Part of what an observer wants to see is how you handle the hiccups. Keep your cool and don’t panic, just do what you would usually do when something goes wrong, handle it with a sense of humor and move on.
5. Take Control of your Observation (if you can)
Often you will get to meet with the observer before he or she comes into the classroom. Take a few minutes before that pre-observation meeting to think about things you would like feedback on. Maybe you are particularly proud of one aspect of your class and you would like to draw their attention to it, or maybe there is something you have been struggling with that you would like to get their ideas on. Think of your observation as a valuable opportunity to collaborate with another teaching professional. If you show them you are engaged in your teaching and actively trying to improve that will go a long way towards making the observation a success.
6. Don’t Take Feedback Personally
I used to really get upset when I would get feedback like “Your warm up was 30 seconds too long.” Who was she to tell me how to time my lessons? What I realized after many years of being observed however is that many observers see it as their job to find things to critique. They often think they are doing you a disservice by not giving you negative feedback. I had one observer tell me that he always started with 2 things he liked about the lesson and one thing that needed improvement. No matter how perfect I thought the lesson was or wasn’t, he was going to fit his feedback into that mould. That means that I can relax, and just listen to the feedback without getting all bent out of shape about it.
7. Don’t just be on the receiving end of class observations, go out and observe other teachers.
As a beginning teacher it seemed like I was always being observed so administrators could correct and improve me. Sometimes it had the desired effect, but often it just made me nervous and defensive. What really did help my teaching was going out and observing other people teach and talking to them about it. 25 years ago, in that first job in Japan, I didn’t have the confidence to go out and seek opportunities to observe other teachers but I wish I had. Since those first few years, I have had the opportunity to observe many, many teachers and I always come out better for it. When teachers approach me now and ask to observe my class I am always delighted. It is so much fun to have another set of eyes and another brain that loves teaching in my class. It gives me an opportunity to think about things from a different perspective and that is always productive.
I hope all of your observations go really well and that this post has helped you relax and even enjoy both being observed and observing. Drop me a comment and let me know how you are doing, how your observations are going or if you just want to chat teacher to teacher. As I sit here typing all alone, I love to imagine you reading this. Let me know your thoughts!
Hi, I'm Kia.
Teaching is my passion, I have been teaching for over 20 years in 4 different continents. One of the things I have learned over the years is that I am never done learning about teaching. Both teaching and learning should be fun and inspiring.
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