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Primary Education News
News Sod's law of lesson observations: if it could go wrong, it almost certainly will
Brit in the Bronx reflects on the mishaps that can blight any teacher during those beloved lesson observations
The most fun you can have as a teacher – as any teacher will tell you - is to be 'observed' (checked up on, rated, judged, and maybe found wanting) – and I've been especially lucky to have this happen twice recently, first by my boss and then by a small committee of higher-ups from the organisation of which my school is a part.
You can pretty much guarantee that during any observation some or all of the following will happen:
The internet will be down so you will not be able to show the perfect film clip you need to kick off the lesson (the one you wrote on the board under "Do Now: watch film clip"). You will be unable to access the lesson plan you are meant to be teaching because it's in Google Docs, and you will be unable to remember what the point of the goddamn lesson was in the first place. On a cold day the heating will be off. Snow may drift through the hole in the window where the air conditioner used to be and which is now – sometimes – stuffed with a garbage bag. On a sweaty summer's day however, the heating will be on, but the windows will be impossible to open. You will have forgotten your keys and be unable to access essential supplies. The classroom will smell of farts.
Any external observer - who has never met your kids - will make a beeline for the two stoners in the corner who barely know they are inside a building, let alone in a lesson. She will sit at their table and ask one of them the relevance of what he is doing. He will answer: "Are we inside a building right now?" The other one may add: "I like hats," before laying his head on the desk and drooling.
The brilliant insight offered by one of your students regarding the importance of the lesson/project/your art teaching generally and received with hooting, clapping and cheering and during which you will be presented with flowers and a sash reading "World's Best Teacher" will happen 30 seconds before the observer comes into your classroom, by which time everyone will be in a bad mood again.
If you are observed by your boss, she will likely have more sense than to sit with the stoners, however the smart kid she has thoughtfully chosen to question will be having an off day and will have forgotten the cunning relevance to other subject areas which you have designed the project to incorporate and made explicit about a hundred times. Oh, XXX, don't you remember that connection I made to world religions/The Merchant of Venice/radioactive isotopes in the handout? The worksheet? The poster? The Powerpoint? The piece of paper I taped to everyone's forehead?
You will do two or three of the following: trip over someone's bag/spill something down yourself/tear your trousers/curse inappropriately/use sarcasm/sigh loudly/put your head in your hands/pack up too soon/pack up too late/forget an essential piece of the lesson/say "Oh my god did somebody fart?"
The kid who is usually asleep ("Miss, shall I wake up Jayden?" "NO!!! Leave him ALONE!") will choose this lesson to be enthusiastically awake and attempt to take over the class discussion with comments ranging from "Are we inside a building right now?" to "I like hats". If you ignore his raised hand he will call out loudly, accuse you of never taking his insights seriously and volunteer to share his artwork with the rest of the class via the document camera attached to the gigantic Smart Board. His artwork may include spaceships, drug references and erect penises. He will make it to the document camera before you realise this.
Fellow teachers, who have to be observed at least once a term, I take my hats off to you. I like hats. Are we inside a building right now?
Anna Bailey is a British art teacher who works at a high-poverty high school in the Bronx, New York. This is the fifth of a series: Brit in the Bronx. She writes under a pseudonym.