A Simple Observation


By Jane Weinkrantz


       It is fall and a seasonal sight as familiar to us as the changing leaves, the scarecrow and the pumpkin is the administrator with clipboard or laptop hustling down a crowded hallway en route to an observation. For those of us who are tenured, these observations are a simple seasonal ritual that confirms our fitness to continue in our jobs, something most of us have no doubts about anyway. Normally, the administrators who observe us concur and tell us so; we sign a document, acknowledging their continued faith in our competence and education continues apace.

   However, lately there has been discussion of alternative observation techniques. In other districts, teachers set goals, keep logs, read books and advise each other instead of receiving a few painless 42 minute visits from their building administrators. Personally, I am of the opinion that teaching is demanding enough without taking on the administrative job of lesson evaluation. Don’t we all have enough paperwork to do as it is?

   Also, how would such self-assessment work? How many of us would conclude that we are the best teachers since Socrates?  Conversely, how many of us would see the evaluation as a pedagogical confessional in which we enumerate all our shortcomings before a benevolent, administrative reader? Neither approach would provide a true description of what goes on in a classroom--- the lesson “snapshot” that principals  and chairpeople currently strive to capture in the traditional observation.

    Furthermore, what would become of administrators once they were relieved of the burden of observations? Would they attend more meetings? Have more retreats? How would they be able to suggest new programs and philosophies if they stopped visiting classrooms? As it is now, I hear colleagues complain that administrators are “out of touch” because they are no longer in the classroom daily. Imagine how remote our experience would seem when our supervisors were no longer obliged to watch teaching in action!

    Finally, I think we deserve our observations. Who wants to teach 20 or 30 years without some written description of what was going on, specifically a positive description?  Given the excellent track record of our district, isn’t it likely that most POB teachers are competent, capable and creative people with positive observations? Why would we want to give those up?

    Having said all that, I do believe there ought to be an opportunity for teachers to read independently, to trade techniques with fellow teachers and to consider ways to grow and develop. Perhaps these activities can be added to the options for staff development.  I would be happy to read a book or meet with a colleague in order to enhance my teaching. I am sure I would find such an opportunity more valuable than many of the staff development courses offered now. For teachers with child or elder care issues or other after-school obligations, working on an independent journal or research project would provide some necessary flexibility. Also, if staff members had the opportunity to choose work that they selected based on interest and relevance to their classroom, they would be more likely to…well…develop.  

      So let’s not abandon the idea of work that improves our teaching and keeps us fresh. However, let’s not confuse teacher development with teacher evaluation. No journals for me, thanks.  I’m keeping my classroom door open to administrators…twice a year, anyway.

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