Otherwise known as the once-a-year formal observation.
Confession: I don’t put on a dog-and-pony show.
I merely try to be a better teacher than I was the year before. All the observer sees is what I do every day in my classroom.
For the first time this year, I am utilizing TAs (Teaching Assistants.) I picked mine carefully and fortunately, each one agreed. It’s a mutual choice. I chose three students from my first year at the high school that I taught, knew, and trust.
It’s worked out well. But sometimes, as they sit in the room and occasionally look up from their tasks to watch as I instruct this year’s Geometry students, I wonder if they think back to their year with me and go: Why didn’t he do this with us? I would have understood it better.
I like my administrator and, more to the point, I respect his experience and expertise. I wish he could visit my room more often because the follow-up conversation helps me understand what takes place in my classroom. Our conversation focuses on how to help students learn more, not on teacher performance.
That’s the way it should be.
Today, though, I am reflecting on a piece of feedback with which I am going to disagree.
Praised for circulating among students and assisting as needed during their independent work time, praised for the meaningful math discussions in which they engage with their peers, and praised for a room where students are motivated to learn, yet my observer felt I needed to share myself more during this time. Enter the student conversation. Be a part of the process. Have it more about me.
That’s where I have to disagree. If there’s one thing math teachers constantly complain about, it’s students who act like they’ve never been taught what the teachers know they learned in previous years.
The problem? It’s not part of semantic memory. The students know something, but that something is tied to the particulars of when, where, and from whom it was learned.
They can’t recall it later without remembering back to the time, the day, and the circumstances.
I don’t want that. Teaching is not about teachers. It’s a shame that the test-and-punish policies of our educational systems have made it about teachers.
Therefore, I am not going to change my practice. I am going to continue to stand aside and allow students to talk among themselves and figure it out on their own. That’s true learning.
To any observer who disagrees, I’ll spout the tired cliche about being the ‘Guide on the Side, not the Sage on the Stage.’ I’m there if needed (there are times when students need a push in the right direction and I will give them as much and only as much of a push that they need), but I will not interrupt the learning process.
My real job is not to teach mathematics, in particular, geometry. My real job is to teach children how to teach themselves. That will carry them a long way through college, grad school if they choose, and their adult lives.