I arrived home Friday night tired out from one of those weeks: high stress, high expectation, PRESSURE! Teachers everywhere will know what I mean when I say ‘graded observations.’ We all hate them (people who say they enjoy them are just lying quite frankly, or a bit sadistic) but it has to be done and when it’s over, it’s never that bad…hopefully anyway.
The reason these reviews are stressful is because they are up close and personal and deeply intimate in a way that few other professionals experience in quite the same way, although I accept there are other forms of appraisal that might be equally, if not more taxing (teachers don’t have the monopoly on stress or hard work, I know). However, every movement you make, every word you utter is closely monitored by clip boarded individuals, and there are thirty variables sitting there wide eyed before you: anything could happen!
No matter how long you’ve taught, you just can’t help feeling some anxiety at the unpredictability of it all. Yet what will always save your bacon is everything you as a teacher have done up until that time, all the systems you’ve put in place, all the habits you’ve engendered in yourself and the children, in essence your pedagogy. Those good or outstanding observations are not luck. As a teachers we need to understand what good teaching means, we need to understand how children learn and learn well. Sometimes this is intuitive; sometimes we’ve had to go away and think about it, to have studied it and talked about it, but things needs to have been in place long before that observation day.
So I sat down after my latest turn at being watched, content in the knowledge that once again my class had successfully investigated a problem for our fictitious friend Mr Patel. Mr Patel pops up a lot in our science lessons. He’d just bought a barn, a barn without a roof no less! What kind of roof tiles should he use he wondered? Having previously explained and demonstrated to the children what permeable/ impermeable meant, it was hard to hold them back with all the advice they had for Mr P. When I showed them a range of equipment, I was told by a seven year old exactly how to test each of our six rocks for permeability and thus how to advise our roofless friend on the right kind of roof tile! Moreover, I was then told exactly what our enquiry question should be in order to solve Mr P’s conundrum. I breathed a sigh of relief and heard the words, ‘there is a God,’ in my head. I was dreading this part most. One of the hardest things in science is to get children to ask a question, harder still, the right question. And harder than all this is the children arriving at a sound, as well as safe and sensible way to investigate the question. Science can so easily turn into a messy bun fight! But the children were nothing short of outstanding themselves in their keenness, as well as their thoughtfulness . Part of this is because children are naturally curious and natural problem solvers too, if given the chance!
Part of me hopes this triumph was because I’ve taught science in this ‘enquiry orientated’ way for a while so the children are in the habit of thinking scientifically (sadly it’s often talked out of them by seven). I’ll never really know, but for me it was a triumph…and for Mr Patel too. And thank God the watchers have left…for a while anyway!