I remember being a pre-service teacher candidate so many years ago… when I was sitting in my practicum placements, I did learn a little from my host teachers, but I was so eager to try my hand at some of the tricks I had learned at the Faculty of Ed, that all I really wanted to do was teach, not watch!
But, 17 years later, one of my favourite things to do is wander into someone else’s classroom, and see how they do it.
I’ve had a number of opportunities to observe colleagues teach over the years; as a program resource consultant with my board for 4 years, then a vice-principal, and later as part of the Ministry of Ed’s student work study initiative, I have been a guest in dozens of classrooms. This year, as part of the TLLP project my colleague and I are involved in, we’ve had a chance to check out what others do with interactive white boards and with Math in a variety of classrooms across the GTA. Each time I watch someone else teach, I have either consolidated my understanding of something I was already playing with in my own classroom, or have picked up a trick that I now use with my students.
It’s been a while, though, since people have watched me teach…
I remember the year I taught a Grade 1/2/3 contained Gifted class: I had a number of parent volunteers in the room, and that really helped keep me in check. I’ve also video-taped myself teaching or facilitating workshops before. Both of these experiences force me to be more conscious of what I do and say, and how I do and say it in my classroom.
More recently, I’ve had a number of visitors in my room, both to observe how my Literacy program works, and to check out the Smart Board and see how we do math this year, without a textbook. Once again, I am forced to self-reflect, and to think about what I do and why I do it. Being aware of someone else in the room also brings to light a hundred little “errors” I make while teaching each lesson. It’s an interesting feeling, being under my own scrutiny.
Honest critical feedback is difficult for me, it always has been. But I value it beyond measure. Truthful, specific criticism from someone whose opinion I value is hard, and it typically causes a mini-breakdown and serious hit to my ego for several days or sometimes weeks. But it also drives me to become better at what I do.
Often, in the past, I have had students fill out “report cards” or feedback sheets for Ms. Teschow, and invariably, they are very honest. It can be ego-boosting or ego-deflating, depending on where you are at in the journey to becoming a stellar teacher. (I’ve had both experiences!) But without fail, every time I have engaged in such an exercise, it has resulted in me taking specific steps towards self-improvement.
Student feedback is good, but I think authentic teacher/colleague feedback is even better. Unfortunately, we don’t work in a climate that fosters such peer critique in a formal way (if anything, it is discouraged!), but that doesn’t mean we can’t choose to seek it out independently. At the very least, we can invite others to visit our classrooms, and encourage them to let us know what they think… REALLY!
And then, we have to humbly thank them for their feedback, and do something constructive with it.
It’s that kind of courageous deprivatization of practise that makes us the professionals we are, rather than the glorified babysitters with grandiose benefits packages that some would make us out to be.