Does your spine freeze at the mention of a class observation? Do you dread the moment a supervisor knocks on your door? You should know that you are not alone. Also, you should know that there is nothing to fear.
First of all, any experienced teacher trainer knows to factor in the stress and anxiety a class observation may cause. Second of all, much of the “fear” of being observed stems from a misconception of what is in sight during an observation.
While many may think the main goal of a class observation is to see the teacher doing a “show and tell”, the truth is that there is much more to observe in a class than what the teacher can do while on the centre stage.
Etymologically, the word “teacher” derives from “teach”, therefore, a teacher teaches. But what does it mean to teach? Does it mean to explicate? Or to lecture? Or to test? If one thinks of the educational model that was in vogue not that long ago, then, yes, the role of the teacher is to lecture from their podium, standing in front of the board while students open their notebooks and textbooks and dive into.
However, different approaches to teaching English – amongst which the Communicative Approach – have taken the role of the teacher away from this stereotype. In a language learning setting, the focus is, many times, on what the students have to say; they are a lot more active in producing language as a means to learning than receiving instructions and silently doing endless grammar drills on their textbooks.
And in this context, where the teacher is not the centrepiece, there is still a lot to see when observing a class. Let’s take a look at a few:
1. Use of the board: is it organized, legible? Is key information being recorded there?
2. What are the stages of the lesson? Are they logically linked?
3. What’s the teacher’s tone of voice? Is there rough tuning? Is the speech natural?
4. Does teacher talking time (TTT) monopolize the class? Is there running commentary? Echoing?
5. Are the instructions clear? Does the teacher ask instruction check questions (ICQs)? Does the teacher ask ‘do you understand’?
6. Are there different seating arrangements? Do students work in pairs and groups?
7. How does the teacher correct mistakes? What about homework and classwork?
8. How does the teacher check understanding? Do they ask concept check questions (CCQs)?
9. Are the lesson goals clear to the students? Did the teacher explain what they were doing in class and why?
10. How did the teacher deal with different learning needs and styles? What about about behavioural issues? Were there any? How were they resolved?
With all those points in mind, next time your class is being observed, you can offload some of the pressure of “performing” by keeping in mind that instructing, motivating, modelling and guiding your students through the learning process are more central to your role in the classroom than the belief that you are in the spotlight. Oftentimes, being “forgotten” by the students is a sign of a well-planned and well-executed class. It is a sign your students are engaged in learning. And what best showcases a teacher’s performance than engaged students?