Are we really encouraged to gain a grade 1?

observation

I recently had my first internal graded observation and was very pleased with my feedback; I was told that the session was very good and that I had been awarded a 2.

While a grade 1 is the ultimate goalpost for most teachers (I’ll explain the ‘most’ shortly), I am genuinely over the moon about the grade that I received. Considering that this year has been tumultuous to say the least, what with lesson planning and resource-making taking over my life, this has reassured me that I am certainly working to the level that I should be and that I must be doing something right!

The build-up

Prior to this having taken place, I was informed by colleagues that I would be “got” soon- making me see this waiting as a temporary dodging of a judgemental bullet.

I soon felt that heart-sinking and almost earth-shattering moment in which you open your emails to find your notification that you will shortly be observed. For any member of staff, this is daunting, but this was to be my first ever official internal teaching observation, which in my eyes would be a seal of approval, or a sign that I’m failing miserably. I was told the week in which this observation would take place. Yes, that’s right- the week. The way it works is that you are not to know when your observer will turn up and watch your teaching all hawk-like. I imagine that it works like this at most institutions in an attempt to get a more realistic feel for how your sessions go.

What followed was genuine support from colleagues in my directorate, which made me feel all the more relaxed about the whole process. Or, as relaxed as one can be given the circumstances.

The pre-observation meeting went well, in which I was informed about what will happen on the day and how long I would need to wait for my feedback. I remember feeling particularly anxious about the possibility of getting lower than a grade 2 but, significantly, I thought to myself how worrying it would be to gain a grade 1. How would that make me feel? Now, in all honesty, the thought of being told that your session was ‘outstanding’ and involved fully engaged learners in an efficient learning environment would be great. However, I was told that I would be required to share my best practice with other staff members. This is what concerned me a little. The reason for this being that I was (and still am) anxious about how I would be received by those staff members to whom I am supposed to assist in developing their teaching practice. How would this make another member of teaching staff feel? Would you embrace this guidance or resent it a little? I mean, even experienced teachers can have a “bad day at the office”, so what’s to say that they need your guidance? This shouldn’t put you off, but I’ve heard a few teachers saying (in person and on social media) how they are ‘only’ aiming for a 2 and wouldn’t want a 1. I suppose for myself, the highest grade would be wonderful, but I would be apprehensive about sharing my practice. Not that I don’t want to assist others, I just feel that I may come across as being arrogant or condescending- which is the last thing that I want to happen.

So, onto my next point- are our observed sessions a realistic reflection of our day-to-day practice? Again, I think this is open for debate; I know that I wanted to keep my sessions in line with my usual lesson structure and general professional approach. However, I will be honest when I say that I spent much longer on my documentation than I usually do. For example, my lesson plans are usually typed up in my own way- I like to produce a document for each day that I work, with sub-headings and bullet points that outline specific sessions. I still list the resources that I use, but I know how I differentiate in my own mind and don’t always document how this is to take place. So, for my observation, I ensured that all of this information was very clear; I suppose lesson plans can vary depending if you are to be the sole user or not.

The session

Following my preparation, I just took each session as it came, not knowing when the “moment” would come. However, on what turned out to be the day in which I was observed, there had been some room-related disruptions that I had to work around in an almost panicked state.

The room that I was to teach in for the majority of the day had had work done on the windows and the blinds had not been put back up. This meant that there was a blinding light blocking any view of anything on the board. Brilliant.

What followed my realisation of this, was sheer exasperation due to the fact that the presentation I had prepared was going to be of no use. Or was it? I quickly photocopied (one of those rare occasions where there was no queue at the photocopier) a few copies of what I had prepared. I was going to hand these out to learners but instead, I decided to use what I could see on my own computer screen as a prompt. Thankfully, I pulled it off and the learners were open to discussing key character traits throughout the text, then focused on the finding of quotations from the novel to back up any points they could raise about specific characters. *Queue sigh of relief*

What happened during this session, further solidifies my view regarding resources.  I can rarely use resources that have been pre-prepared by someone else (there are many available on a variety of different websites); I like to put presentations and hand-outs together myself so that I know them off by heart in case of an emergency like this one, even though this can be very time-consuming. If I were to use something pre-prepared then I would risk just reading it out like a script. Something that I want to avoid doing whenever possible.

I did feel a glow of pride when it came to how my learners behaved; they were responsive and well-behaved (even more so than usual). I didn’t need to ask my learners to do this by glaring at them when my observer entered the room and needing to mouth something along the lines of “behave yourselves or else”. They did this anyway.

Then came the moment when I was asked to leave the room so that my group could be asked some questions along the lines of “do you feel safe in this classroom?” and “is this a usual session?” I had to uncomfortably wait outside while the group were, in effect, sealing my fate. Or at least that is how it felt. In any case, my observer left the room smiling and told me that she would be in touch shortly regarding my feedback meeting.

The feedback

Thankfully, (as I have already mentioned) the session was awarded a 2 and I was given praise regarding my use of Prezi (one of my favourite presentation-making tools) and my ability to improvise when things didn’t go according to plan.

I was also told that I was ‘ferocious’ in my dealing with sensitive subject matter that needed to be discussed during the session (and during many others for that matter). We have been reading The Kite Runner, which involves the rape of a child, the rise of the Taliban and subsequent turmoil in Afghanistan. I feel that while we have a responsibility to teach our learners the subject matter required to pass their course, we are also (at least) partially responsible to aid in the development of their world views, maturity and general compassion for others. Of course, this is something that I imagine all teachers aim for anyway.

The feedback that I received regarding ways of “enriching” (my observer’s words not mine) the session, and subsequent sessions, were all valid points; I was informed that I should experiment with my allocations of different groups and alter the table layouts so that conversations and discussions between learners can be more efficient. For example, I had groups of threes that on hindsight (a wonderful thing) would have struggled to appropriately discuss their task with each other due them all being sat on tables next to each other rather than on table islands in which they could face each other. Point noted and to be taken on board.

…and breathe. Then relax.

Question

So, I want to end with a question: Are we really encouraged to gain a grade 1, creating more work for ourselves as well as possible tensions among colleagues?

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