Tell me if I'm alone in this feeling: you learn that an administrator or other supervisor will be coming in to observe your classroom. Regardless of what you have planned for that day (which is no doubt an awesome lesson), you get nervous. Why can't they just trust me to do the job they hired me for, you think, why do they have to come see for themselves?
Judging by casual conversations I've had with other teachers, I don't think I'm alone in this feeling. But given that we evaluate our students' performance all the time, why should we be so hesitant to have others evaluate our performance? Why do so many teachers teach behind closed doors, of their own choice? I'm not talking about how I shut the door cause it's noisy in the hall, I mean why have I spent the last five years of my career planning, prepping, and carrying out lessons all on my own?
This post is my attempt to throw out a few of my own reasons and see which ones resonate with other teachers.
Some of the reasons are external factors that I can only affect in a limited way. On any given day that someone observes my class, there could be a change in student behavior, motivation, or engagement that has nothing do to with the lesson I've planned and everything to do with what goes on the other 1400 minutes of the students' days. Depending on what that change is, the observer may not get to observe how I handle that change. Chances are, I won't stop the class to counsel an individual, I'll chat with them later on. If it's a full class phenomenon, they might not even notice the way I adapt my intended lesson to the class energy. I think these would be important parts of a teacher evaluation, but since I've never had an in-depth conversation to follow up a lesson observation, I'd never get to convey that information to the observer. They won't get to know the real work I've done in that lesson, if that's even what they're looking for.
That's my other source of anxiety during a classroom visit. I'm never certain what an observer is looking for. Are they looking for classroom management or structure? Are they trying to get a sense of an individual lesson plan, or a more broad unit plan? My content knowledge? My ability to accommodate learning differences and differentiate for learners in my lessons? We tell students what they will be tested on, why not tell me by what standards I will be evaluated? Sometimes, a principal will even have me fill out my own evaluation form. But how about a conversation about expectations and methods of evaluation? Heck, how about a rubric, even?
Personally, I know that some of my anxiety comes from the fact that I know I can't compare to the charismatic miracle teacher of inspirational movies. None of us can, but none of us can know how close we can get if we don't coach and praise one another. And this coaching and praising is what I feel has been missing from my classroom observations so far. It seems like teaching is a difficult thing to evaluate because it's a unique combination of being very high stakes (the future is in your hands) and very individual (no one set way to teach). But those very reasons seem to make it ripe for collaboration and not isolation. Teachers, is your teaching community very collaborative or very behind-closed-doors?