Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Fall With Probably Kill Ya

Actual sign hanging outside my classroom.
Observations have never bothered me. Formal observations, informal observations, walk-ins, whatever. I'm good. They've never been something I stressed about. I think that's probably because I'm pretty secure in how my teaching looks. How it would read to someone for an hour. Let this not be confused with me saying that my teaching is always awesome and my kids learn everything all the time. That's not true, I suffer from acute impostor syndrome just like the rest of us. In the long view.

With a formal observation I take more time in the writing of a lesson. Not to say that care and thought doesn't go into every lesson, after all what the kids think is more important than what my administrator thinks, but what my administrator thinks matters too. So I write the most kick ass lesson I can for when she comes in. I already incorporate technology and movement and discussion and student talk on a regular basis, but for a formal observation I might make extra sure those bases are covered super hard. A formal observation is what you'd see if you came into my class on a random day, but more-so. Because the audience is bigger.

There's only one exemption to this rule, and it falls under the category of Do As I Say, Not As I Do. I had a vice principal I hated one year, and she couldn't stand me either. Our philosophies didn't match up. I thought school should be fun and she thought she needed to be a hard ass to get respect. Anyway, she thought an observation was about watching me teach, so I decided to make it about watching my kids learn. So I the lesson was literally me giving the kids three lines of direction, then mixing with them as they worked on a project. Come watch me teach instead of watching me Teach. Put that in your form.

I'm not always very smart.

Anyway, I've gotten to thinking recently about the kinds of lessons I write when I know I'm going to be formally evaluated. I choose vocabulary or comprehension. I weight the deck completely in my favor. As I should, as is my right. An administrator should never have final say about the kind of lesson they'll observe, let that rest with the teacher. I've have too many bad administrators to say they should be allowed to pick how they sharpen their knife. But my current principal is different. I've written about her before, but she's got my back. She supports me. Her attitude is very, "Your room is different but as long as your kids are learning I'm good with it." I would let her dictate a lesson to be observed, just to see what would happen.

I kind of did that with the formal observation that just happened. I went into her office the day before our pre-observation meeting and asked if there was anything specific she wanted to see. Anything she'd never seen me teach that she wanted to. I was honestly hoping she would say, "Teach math, but use technology." Something like that. Something that would be more of a stretch. But she knows the power dynamic is such that she ought to leave that up to me, so she gave me other things she wants to see, reminded me of the goals we've set up for this year and how I could accomplish those. I taught a vocabulary lesson. I killed it. Knocked it out of the park. Kids were engaged, everything worked as well as you could ask for.

And I'm kind of dissatisfied by it. I know she'll have good feedback for me at our post-conference. But I think I should have challenged myself more.

What would happen if I purposefully reached too far in a formal observation? What would happen if I picked an observation to be the first time I taught a lesson, or a specific project, or used a specific computer program? What would happen if I set myself up for failure in front of my principal?

That's dumb though, right? Who would do that? That's not what observations are for, they're for checking a box and getting good marks and staying safe for another year. Right? (Note- If you have a weak union or a bad admin or both, that's totally what they are and you should feel free to scoff at the next part.)

So what if she knew? What if I planned a lesson that I knew would have a high probability of failure for an observation, but then told my principal that's what I'd done? So that she could see and we could figure out how to make the lesson better together? So that she could see me really improvise mid-lesson when I noticed everything was going to hell and I needed to save it? I'm not saying I'd purposefully plan a bad lesson, but an overreaching one.

Wouldn't that be a better use of the hour for me? Oh, and is it selfish to take an hour of teaching and make it more about making myself a better teacher than to use it to help my students learn? To put my professional growth ahead of theirs for a short while? That's better in the long run though, right? It's not like I'd do it every day, or every week or even every month.

I wonder what would happen if I broke an evaluation on purpose in order to making a better learning tool? I know that my current principal would embrace the idea, because she's cool like that. I know that I'm speaking only for myself here and for no one else, because I'd never ever suggest even for a minute that any other teacher should try to do worse on an evaluation because of some cockamamie idea I have. 

What would I even teach? I'll be honest, I'm kind of excited by this idea. I like the thought of maybe crashing in an environment where I normally thrive. Because my school is safe for me right now. So why not leap a little further? How often in one's career will a situation like this present itself?

As I'm struggling to find a way to end this that doesn't involve me petering off into endless hypothetical questions until I talk myself into trying this at the next possible opportunity (a strong possibility at the moment), I will instead close with a clip from BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID that more perfectly sums up my feelings on risks like this or any other.

If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written three books about teaching- He’s the Weird TeacherTHE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), and the just released A Classroom Of One. I’ve also written one novel- The Unforgiving Road. You should check them out, I’m even better in long form. I’m also on the tweets @TheWeirdTeacher

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for writing this. It's a window into a real world within teaching that is rarely peered through. Being safe, taking risks, honest confessions and hopes. All so hidden so often.