Class management? CANE??
Ffteen minutes felt like fifty, and this was fairly representative of all the lessons I saw that week.
The prospect of spending the next two and a half years as a mentor within this education system was overwhelming. Where to start? I was grateful we were under strict instructions not to give any feedback on initial observations except, ‘That was an interesting class. Thank you for having me’.
It’s now February 2012 and I’m sitting at the back of a classroom in
Borneo, watching for the first
time a new mentee who’s just joined the project. It’s still sweatier than a
very sweaty thing, but my observation notes look totally different:
Kids loved song
Check pron of /æ/Phonics game in groups of 4?
What’s happened in a year? Are the new teachers more competent than the old ones? Have I tuned out the pedagogical idiosyncrasies of Sarawakian classrooms? Or have I realised that observation is not about me?
As Chris Ozog said in his excellent blog post ‘On being an observer’:
'Observations of teachers are not there to tell people how to teach, to take a teacher’s lesson to bits, to criticise, to push a certain pedagogical agenda or to show off the observer’s supposed greater experience and knowledge.'
How true that is, and how unable I was – occasionally still am – to practice what any sensible person would preach. It doesn’t matter what I would have done in their shoes. It matters whether the children enjoyed and learned from the lesson, and if they didn’t, whether it was because the teacher was missing any skills, knowledge or resources that I could help to provide.
Now, when I’m perspiring and scrawling and the teacher is nearly always trying their best in difficult circumstances, I try to start with a positive comment, even if my gut reaction is *lights flash, klaxon sounds* NO WARMER! NO WARMER! Like visualisation before a sports match or performance, it seems to trick my brain into looking at the lesson through a different filter. I don’t allow myself to write general criticisms either (Teacher-centred), but specific suggestions to improve activities that didn’t go so well (Phonics game in groups of 4?). And I watch the kids more than the teacher.
|Kids settling down to class today|
In short, her page was much like mine from a year ago. On one hand, I was really pleased that she could identify a lot of the issues we’ve been discussing over the last twelve months. On another, I worried that I had for too long provided a model of observation that was inappropriately vague and unduly critical. We talked about what we’d each written and constructed two columns of feedback, one containing examples of good practice and one with ideas to consider (she thought I was being too kind).
Unfortunately I wasn’t there to deliver the oral feedback with her so I’ve no idea whether, when it came to it, she was gentle or harsh or somewhere in between, and whether Mr A took it all on the chin or ran weeping into the mop cupboard. But observing her observing (to put it untidily) certainly forced me to look at my own practice as an observer, and what that communicates to the teachers who will take over my role when I’m gone. And as for effective oral feedback – well, that’s a whole separate post, isn’t it? :)