Art of Teaching Part I: The Worst Thing You Can Do to a Teacher

Photo illustrating the news item

Driving is a public task; we watch drivers every day. Violinists perform on stage; we pay money to hear a great orchestra. We watch window washers as they swish the squeegee along the glass. We cheer for basketball players as they both run plays on the court. There are umpteen cooking shows where we watch cooking masters grill marinated pork on skewers.

But we rarely watch teachers teaching. Even teachers don’t watch other teachers teaching. Why not?

Like driving or playing the violin or cooking, teaching is a craft, a skill, learned over time. Like playing music there is a script; in teaching, we call it a lesson plan. But both musicians and teachers regularly improvise.

Ok, so it might be tough to sell tickets to the average person to watch a language teacher teach verb tenses. But teachers can learn from peer observations.

Of all the professional development options available to teachers, like conferences, collaborative projects, grants, workshops, or seminars, peer observation is the least time-consuming, the least expensive, and the most efficient way for teachers to receive real, honest compliments on their craft. Peer observations are the most authentic way to reflect and improve real teaching for real teachers in real-time.

And there is the rub. There are very few teachers who appreciate having a visitor in the classroom as they teach. They don’t want to be watched when they are giving instructions for roleplay or when they are checking the homework that half of the students forgot to do. An English teacher recently told our MA TESOL student that being observed was the ‘worst thing that you could do to a teacher.’ I have the sense that she is not the only teacher who carries that sentiment.

On one hand, teachers are always “on stage.” Although we don’t like to think of teaching as a performance, students are the “audience” and teachers are, in many cases, the actors. In this vein, teachers should easily welcome one more person in the room observing them doing what they do best: directing learning.

On the other hand, teachers often prefer to perform their craft behind closed doors. Walk down the hallway of any school or university and the classroom doors are closed. Teachers are teaching and no one sees how they do what they do. Unless lessons are observed, teaching is undercover, secretive, and behind closed doors.

On the third hand, how will teachers develop unless someone watches lessons and then guides the teacher in self-reflection or offers feedback?

How can we change teachers’ negative mindsets about peer observations? I have some ideas. Tune in to the next post.

Author: Robin Gingerich, Ph.D., MA TESOL Program Director at LCC International University.

9 Jun 2023