Benito Vacio

Observation blues

How do you feel about teaching observations?

I was answering a sentence completion test at one of the agencies where I applied for a teaching position. One of the items was, "When I am observed by my supervisor I  __________________."

Would you like to know my answer? Do you think I gave any of these replies? "I feel nervous." "I feel nothing." "I feel excited." I feel anxious." "I feel uneasy." "I'm scared" "I'm unaffected" If you were to answer, what would you write? Figure out what I wrote based on the things I say below about observations.

Many teachers fear observations, especially when they are unannounced. On the other hand, announced observations are easy to handle because the teacher can prepare a little bit more. This does not mean that the teacher is not ready to be observed or has no preparation time, but it's more 'exciting' because the teacher wants to do their best.

The situation reminds me of the fox in "The Little Prince" by Antoine de Saint Exupery. "When you pay a visit, I like that you tell me ahead of time so that hours or minutes before you come I will be excited." This goes for teacher observations too in a way. 

If observations are a way of snooping and catching teachers out , I think it defeats the real purpose. I have always had a lot of assurances from my supervisors that I should not worry about them observing me because they are simply there to help.

We can't deny the fact that some institutions use observations as a tool to get rid of undesirable employees. But genuine observations are supposed to be an ideal tool for assessing the performance of teachers - in particular for more purposeful objectives like salary increases, promotions and commendations.

However, despite the benefits observations bring, they also cause needless worry, extreme anxiousness, big disappointments, a little discomfort, and a general feeling of uneasiness. They are a bit of a nuisance to many teachers.

So what is an observation? What is it for?

Observation in schools focus on two aspects - teachers and students.

Student observations focus on student performance, participation, behavior, problems, growth, and student-related agenda. The observer only assesses the students and the teacher is not the object of scrutiny. Teacher observation, on the other hand, focuses on the teacher - personality, teaching effectiveness, communication, mastery of the subject taught, strategies employed , assessment of students, etc.

Observations can be formal or informal. Informal ones are those that last for a few minutes like almost drop-in visits. But these visits are still significant because the supervisor may take down notes and later give written or oral feedback, either positive or negative, after the visit. An informal observation doesn't need to be followed by a post conference.

Formal observations on the other hand are more serious. They are usually announced in advance and the supervisor may use video, an observation checklist or a prepared evaluation form. This is usually culminated by a scheduled one-on-one post conference where feedback is given and the teacher may have the opportunity to react to the supervisor's comments.

Many times we hear teachers say, "I had a very high rating yet I was bombarded with a lot of comments. Why is it like that?"

Teachers mustn't question this. The supervisor is only doing the job they are paid to do. If no comments are given, congratulate yourself, it means that the supervisor likes the lesson you presented, or perhaps, your teaching is acceptable to his/her standard.

I think this is what we have to accept. The supervisor has to play the superior role because "the supervisor is a supervisor." Some supervisors have pride in their job. Therefore, they have to show that they are better than the teacher.

If you want to grow in your profession, take your supervisor's comments on board. No matter how excellent we are as a teacher, when we teach, we are not in a position to see our teaching strengths and weaknesses. It takes another person to do this and that is the role of our supervisor.

One good thing to do so that you won't have any fear of being observed, is to invite your supervisor to visit you during one of your interesting lessons. Your supervisor will be glad to accept this invitation. Try it next time.

The second time around, when your supervisor comes into your class, I am sure that it will be different... The 'supervision blues' will pass away and teaching will be a lot more fun - even with supervisors around. What are you waiting for, invite your supervisor now.

So do you know now what I answered? You're right. Your guess is my answer.



Mark, most of the things you said affirmed my ideas about observations. I am glad that you welcome observations like me because before I became a teacher here in Thailand, I observed more than a hundred teachers at different institutions. I just hope that the call to value observations doesn't fall on deaf ears... Thanks for the very nice comments. More power to you.

By Benito Vacio, Nonthaburi (15th February 2011)

I think professions of any kind has this observation thing, in teaching profession, it has been establish even when the teacher was still in university he/she has to undergo series of observation. How much more in real teaching life?
If the observation support the teachers appraisal then there's no way a teacher would fear though feelin’ of nervousness is but natural. however, if it is use to terminate a teacher for whatever reason, I concur that it really defeats the purpose, moreover, led to administrative case, before I came to Thailand , I have experienced a random observations in my old school accompanied by a series of interpersonal sessions with co-teachers and admin. This was a unique system that I appreciated in the Diocesan schools where I used to teach. I got used to it then. However, higher ups sometime use the “observation” to get rid of the teachers they don’t like by failing them in the evaluation, obviously, very subjective on their conducted observation. Thus, the result is not satisfactory and not even feasible coz it turns out as a plot contrivance to pin down a teacher that doesn’t agree with admin. daft policy…
Announce and un announce observation always goes together since it is a process where teachers are weigh on the degree of their improvement and consistency in teaching. What’s important to both is how a teacher handle himself when incidental learning arises, in which, it mostly happens during class time. The observer is practically keen on that scenario evaluating teacher’s efficiency and affectivity when lesson was not included in L.P but draw out significantly by student/s.

If I ask the same answer would be simple..
"When I'll be observed by my principal or academic supervisor" I'll be honor to have them in my class. Besides, I've learnt a lot from this practice.

By mark, banok banok , northeast (14th February 2011)

Thoms, I just hope that you will take observations positively because I reiterate, the person placed in the position is indeed qualified. Take my case, my observer once was someone I belittled, but the second time, prior to my observation, I had the opportunity to ask him about his former job. There I realized that he had the "right".
Take it this way. The supervisors applied for the job, they had training, and may have experience. So, give them the benefit of the doubt. In my experience, there were a lot of my friends who were not against observations, but against their supervisors. Somehow, they had accepted their supervisors and had worked long in that company.
I think what matters is that you are a very good teacher and your students learn so much from you.Keep it up.

By Benito Vacio, Nonthaburi, Thailand (9th February 2011)

How Should I feel concerning an observation? The first thing that I would like to find out this person qualified to complete a teacher Observation form? What is the background of this person completing this observation. I would be very concerned if a person with no educational background was coming into my class to observe my teaching methods.I have been in Thailand approx 10 years and have had two teacher observations. I felt these were well planned and thought out.

By Thomas Benjamin, Bangkok, Thailand (8th February 2011)

Neil, thanks for the comment.
You are right. Lessons that are observed by supervisors without the conscious effort to impress is very ideal If it turned out to be excellent, it would give the teacher a tap on the soulder and would affirm that the teacher is really excellent.
That's why, it's important for the teacher to set his/best foot forward everyday so that with observers or no observers, he/she is teaching effectively.

By Benito Vacio, Nonthaburi, Thailand (8th February 2011)

Despite three years experience, I hate observations. For some reason I don't like someone taking notes and giving advice on how to teach my kids. To be fair, some advice I have taken on board but some advice I know is complete nonsense.

My boss once aske me 'were you nervous today?'. I asked why and she replied that the OWNER had been observing me. I thought it was just a friend of the Thai teacher! The simple fact that I didn't realise helped me enormously. The owner was very impressed (head swells) and amazed at the standard of my kids spoken English.

If I had known I was being observed by the owner I would've 'over planned' and thought too much about my lessons rather than being myself.
I do understand observations but I would prefer a random lesson to be filmed without my knowledge.

By Neil, BKK (6th February 2011)

"One good thing to do so that you won't have any fear of being observed, is to invite your supervisor to visit you during one of your interesting lessons"

I think you are a very lucky teacher Ben if you have a supervisor who lets you pick and choose when you want to be observed. Obviously we would all go for classes that tend to be more dynamic and when we are teaching subject matter that we are more comfortable with.

Yes, I think there should be advanced notice given by a supervisor when he or she intends to observe you (24 hours is more than enough) but they should be able to choose any lesson they want.

By philip, (29th January 2011)

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