Tuesday 6 December 2011

Pride Before A Fall

As has happened so many times in the past, the happiness always seems short-lived. The pride I felt yesterday at my achievements has had the edge taken off it with what I think was a crappy observation today.

I had high expectations for my group, AS Biology. I love teaching them - they are usually the most eager to learn, well-behaved and happy to answer questions. They're a dream group. We were recapping on pedigrees and genetic diagrams, doing some practice papers and then moving on to looking at cystic fibrosis, the big Topic 2 case study. It was the sort of lesson they were used to, which for that group gets results.

The observer arrived halfway through (I knew it was a middles-and-ends obs). And all hell broke loose. The enthusiastic students morphed into a barely controllable bunch of australopithecines. They would not be quiet while others were speaking, and suddenly seemed to have the attention span of a hyperactive squirrel. So suffice to say I don't think it went well.

Now, I've had crappy observations when I've had feral students refusing to learn (the second group of BTEC students per year is usually the worst behaved, as we fill up one group at enrollment then add in subsequent groups, so the motivation and ability decreases as the group numbers increase...). I've had groups where my attempts to induce learning have failed miserably (the A2 action potential lesson was memorable in that regard), and where students have said the most bewildering things (another A2 asking, in all innocence, whether the SEM image of a stoma was the female external genitalia).

However, the thing that's got me troubled this evening is the general observation by myself, colleagues and my former PGCE tutors that if a group likes their teacher, they tend to behave better than usual in observations, and if they don't like them, then they act up to get their teacher into trouble. I got an inkling today that the latter might be the case, and that has shaken me a little, especially given my high regard for this group. Teaching isn't a popularity contest - if the students do well in their exams and go on to higher education or training, then objectively it doesn't matter if they hate me.

But it matters on a personal level.


  1. I feel for you Julia. It's impossible to predict how your students will behave under the microscope of a visiting observer. I remember being observed by a local Headteacher who was considering using my college as a vehicle for the now-forgotten 14-19 Diplomas. My class was chosen as a model of good practice. My students - level 2 Business - were complete idiots. They told me later that they felt anxious and angry about the obs and wanted to flex their muscles. Not personal. Try not to take it personally. Hilary Nunns

  2. I wondered when I read your post if they were acting up to see if you still 'loved them' the next class. Are your students cynical enough to think that you were nice/great teacher just in advance of your observation then you'd be horrid?
    Having read the above comment which makes a lot of sense to me, it might be an idea to ask them what happened in the lesson - it might be valuable data for your college to know that observations are very nerve wracking for a class as well as the teacher.

    In any case, it sounds awful, particularly after the great day before.

  3. Thanks for the comments and suggestions. I did follow up with them when I saw them on Thursday, and they didn't seem to want to commit to a response. I just reminded them in the end that all observations were to see whether I was doing a good job and that they were never the focus of an observation. And then we carried on.

    I had to give them a different way of doing the work anyway, as our projector bulb has blown (grrr), so Thursday's lesson was odd and unusual anyway. Maybe Tuesday will be more normal...


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