As teachers, we get in the habit of being in charge, in charge of our classrooms, that is.
We decide what material to cover and how to cover it. We tell our students the behavior we expect and assign homework they will have to complete. Because of this control, having a peer observation or an observation by a superior can be intimidating or frustrating. We are not accustomed to others telling us how to behave. Still, there are several benefits to having a class observation that can help you become a better teacher.
Five Benefits to a Classroom Observation
A Different Set of Knowledge
Even if your observer was trained by the same people and with the same material as you, she still has experience unique to herself. She has had different students in different settings for different classes and at different times. She has responded to different student needs and had to dole out a different set of discipline. All of this experience can be valuable to you in your class. Your observer can and will look at the material and methods you use from a different vantage point, and she will be able to offer new insight into your teaching and your classroom. Taking advantage of your coworker’s experience saves you the time and trouble of learning it yourself the hard way. In addition, we need to look at this type of advice as teamwork and not criticism. We all have the same goals of helping our students reach fluency in English, so any ways we can encourage one another are good ones.
A Different Read on Students
Every teacher has students that she loves. She also has students she likes and others she tolerates. Nevertheless, if we are going to be honest, every teacher also has those students that she wishes she just did not have to teach. The reasons behind these feelings can be many. Though these frustrations sometimes come from performance in the classroom, more often they stem from personality differences between teacher and student, and any human being can expect to have some personality differences with at least one student. The good news is that different teachers will most likely have a different set of students with whom they just do not get along. By inviting a peer to do a class observation, you may gain insight to troublesome students, especially if the tension stems from personality conflicts. Without a personal clash clouding your visitor’s view, he may be able to give you new insight into a particular student’s behavior or performance. In turn, you may also be able to return the favor to your observer with a visit to his classroom. Those students who frustrate him may be others with whom you get along easily, and you and your coworker can help each other understand the students you just do not get.
A Different Perspective
As much as we hate to admit it, teachers are imperfect. Though we have good intentions and try our hardest to do the best jobs that we can, we make mistakes. The good news is it is never too late to change the way we teach in the classroom. Part of being an ESL teacher is encouraging our students to appropriately read and respond in the discourse situations in which they find themselves. In the same way, we must honestly look at our own teaching for areas in which we may be responding less than ideally. A fellow teacher, someone in the same situation as you, can offer suggestions on your teaching style and methods in a way that is constructive and helpful. No one likes to be told he is wrong, but sometimes we need a wakeup call to a mistake we are making. A friend, colleague and fellow teacher can point out areas in our teaching in which we need to grow and develop and may even be able to suggest a way he has successfully overcome that same difficulty without being judgmental.
A Different Set of Standards
One common struggle among teacher of any subject is the difference in expectations from one teacher to another, and that is never truer than with ESL students. Different teachers have different expectations, even for students at the same level. Inviting others to observe our classes can help us realize when our expectations are slightly, or drastically, off the mark. Some teachers will have high expectations and will need to take a more realistic view of their students. Other teachers will have standards that are too low and need to be challenged to motivate and push their students to better performance. When all the educators at one institution are clear on what to expect of students at each level, you will not only spare yourself being labeled as “hard” or an “easy A” but students will also have more realistic expectations of themselves.
A Different Set of Goals
An honest observer who comes into our classrooms with the intent of helping a fellow teacher can also offer one more gift – the strengths of his own teaching. Every teacher is good at something different, and the odds are that your observer is gifted in a different area of teaching. Because his strengths lie in other areas, he can encourage you to grow in the places where you struggle. He can offer suggestions on what new goals to aim for as you grow as an educator and even show you how he does it if you do a follow-up observation in his classroom. Once again, it is a matter of working together to further the education of your students and improve the quality of education that your school offers.
If you find yourself frustrated with class and not sure what you can do to make things better, ask a fellow teacher to observe a lesson in your classroom.
If you want additional feedback, look to your administrator or principal. Though it may seem intimidating at the start, a classroom observation will only benefit you and your students in the end.
If you can attest to the value of a classroom observation, share your experiences below!