Evaluating the Classroom Observation

I’m getting observed in my Politics of Reading class this week and next. It’s all part of a perfectly normal process that tends to offer very little. It’s hoop jumping.

As an assistant professor, I think I was observed for my third year review and then again for tenure. Each observation was the same – two people (I get to pick who they are) come to my class and observe me for an hour. I also get to pick the class I am observed in. They come back the following week to the same class and do it again. We meet before the observation so I can go over whatever they need to know about the class. We meet afterwards so they can share whatever they want to share. They write up a report.

As an untenured professor these reports were considered alongside my third year review and my promotion to Associate Professor. Now, I am five years out since receiving tenure. I have to make a choice: (a) go up for Full Professor or (b) just do an in house review. I decided to go with B and will likely go up for Full in the next three-five years.

observation 2However, regardless of which path I took each still required me to go through this observation process. Even if I was a Full Professor, every five years I would have to undergo an internal review and have my teaching observed.

I don’t have a problem with having my teaching observed. In fact, I hate that I don’t observe other people teaching on a regular basis. I think I could really learn some things about pedagogy if I had the chance to do so. Yes, I am sure I could make it happen if I wanted to, but for whatever reason I have not.

My thoughts for the moment are on the observation. When I was pre-tenure, I am sure I brought out all the fireworks in an effort to impress. I am sure I was insecure regardless of it I had any reason to be or not. Now, I am not insecure. I am sure that comes with experience. I also don’t feel the need to impress anyone. Come to my class. See what you see. Tell me whatever you want to tell me. Maybe it will help me, and maybe it won’t. I’m open to it though.

But overall, I think this is ridiculous. What am I possibly going to learn about myself as a teacher from anyone observing me for two hours and with only a basic understanding of the course? Probably not much because the system isn’t really set up for me to learn much from it (or help others I might observe in any significant way). It’s a hoop.

Now, that said, I would like to use this space to think of some possible alternatives. I’ve come up with a few ideas – very random.

#1 Make Observing Classes Part of My Job

Wouldn’t it be nice if regular classroom observations were a part of my job? Yes, it would. Do you know what I think the easiest way to accomplish this would be? Co-teaching. While I might learn some new tricks of the trade by observing classes where I have little to no expertise, I would be most helpful in a class that fits my expertise. So put two of us in a class together. The conversations we have from planning and observing together will likely help me improve as a teacher.

I’d be getting (and giving!) feedback in a context I knew well. My co-teacher and I would know the students, the purpose of the class, where we were headed, our struggles, etc…I cannot help but think in such an instance we would both grow immensely.

Not every class needs to be co-taught. We’d have to think through which ones should be and how often this should happen.

#2 Form a Group and Work Together

This one you do on your own time. You create a group of people who want to work on their teaching and you go around and observe

We could be more or less formal than this.
We could be more or less formal than this.

each other’s classes. I recently applied for, and was admitted, to such a group on campus. The first meeting happened when I couldn’t attend so I’m still waiting to see how this shakes out.

In this example you could, of course, be selective about your group. It could be discipline specific or people with similar goals. It obviously requires a bit more time out of your hide, but if you enjoy it and benefit from it then that’s great.

#3 Why Not Form an Online Community?

Why not create an online community where we look at our teaching together. This idea has potential, I think, because you can hook up with people all around the globe. Again, it can be a selective group or subgroups could be formed and then reformed as purposes change for people over time. It could be a space where we post lessons, video, and have discussions about our teaching.

At any rate, there has to be a better way to conduct observations regardless of if they are being done to jump through a hoop or not. I can handle these observations for the purpose of checking off a box. But I would really like to get something more out of it than the structure allows. What do you think? What would you like to see?

Comments 4

  • Classroom observations performed by administrators are a complete joke. I love feedback and handle constructive criticism really well. As a former athlete, I am accustomed to being told that I am not performing to the best of my ability. The difference is, coaches tell you HOW and WHAT you need to do to fix the issue. They explain it to you, sometimes kindly, sometimes not, but they explain it. In my experience, admins just put marks on your evaluation. For example, I was recently marked proficient on the “global” part of my evaluation. I asked what I could do to change that to accomplished. I was told that I was being negative. Keep in mind, I did not get an attitude when I was marked down. I simply asked for feedback and ideas of how I could fix the issue. After explaining to the admin that I wasn’t trying to be negative I was told that someone would have to get back to me on that. Really? If one does not have that answer then what is this person using to judge proficient vs. accomplished? Usless.

    • And the reverse of this drives me crazy! I had to do an observation once and said that I didn’t think a particular discussion technique worked well given the number of students in the class (too few students in this case). It wasn’t that the use of the technique was bad or anything, just not a good fit. And I tried to talk about it and the person was all, “I don’t agree with you.” Wouldn’t even have a conversation about it. UGH!

      You deserve to know how to move from proficient to accomplished. The person who observed you is the person who should be able to explain it AND that person should have explained it on the spot since the mark had already been given. That’s just useless and awful.