Observe to learn


Hello there,

I was preparing a presentation for a group of teachers when I came across the word “observe”. I stopped and remembered how many times I had been observed by teachers, coordinators, trainers and so on. During 2 years, the institution where I used to teach never sent someone to observe my classes, so I had free reign for a while. However, I used to follow the coursebook exactly how the teacher’s guide asked me to and, even worse, I had no idea that I was completely lost and alone on this road called “teaching”.

In a given moment of my presentation, I asked the teachers to close their eyes and visualize a person in a crowded classroom. In this room there were lots of people from many parts of the country, talking about their ideas and expectations. Then, I asked them to imagine an unprepared and insecure teacher. After that, they opened their eyes. This activity took three minutes at least. The three minutes were over and that’s when I told them the person I asked them to visualize was myself in 2009, (feeling uncertain about being observed.)

When I decided to teach, I thought it was going to be a piece of cake. Actually, many people think that. I have some “good” friends that once told me something like, “You don’t work, look around, you listen to music all the time, watch tv series and party.” Well, if they knew exactly how many nights I have gone to bed at 4 o’clock to prepare “wicked awesome” lesson plans for 8 o’clock morning classes, they would reconsider that.  It’s not that easy!

In fact, this talk was to help them to improve themselves to learn by observing. Not observing my talk, but each other.

There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing and be nothing” Aristotle

I started asking my coordinator about observations, because I realized that something was wrong with their attitude. No one in two years had appeared in my classes. What shocked me was her awful answer, “You don’t need to be observed, you are quite good and all your students like you, no one has complained about you. Actually, I can’t waste my time doing this.”  Perhaps she thought I should be flattered after that answer. However, I felt like a complete idiot. So to have someone observe my class, there was only one way: have a student  go to the coordinator’s room and complain about me. Mmm, quite interesting, don’t you think!? This was not for me, and I quit my “job” then. At that time, I was doing my post-graduation on English Studies, and I was feeling very insecure about my “English”.  Actually, I was totally confused about languages. I had finished my Linguistic studies in Barcelona where I had to learn Spanish from the beginning. Portuguese was interfering a lot in the process. It was pretty hard but I survived! That time, when I came back to University, I really understood what it was walking in my students’ shoes (when my Adult students try to explain how they feel about learning a new language, I can really relate.) It is tough and demands all of our attention and dedication.

Thus, the time had come to  quit the “school”. Some could say that I was in heaven, in my comfort zone, with nothing to worry about, but it was not for me – I love sharing and learning. I cannot live isolated!

Moreover, I got a place in another institution and, during my trainee period, I had to observe some classes of many levels, so that I learned about the methodology and how I had to apply it in my lesson plans. Frequently, a Mentor or Coordinator came to my classes  to observe my interaction with my students, creativity, procedures and so on. Then, we had a moment in which they gave me some feedback. It was a nice cycle of learning and sharing. No judgment, no shame! It was something very close to what I was looking for.

When I finished my story, I asked the teachers in the room to look at the board and read the definition of the verb OBSERVE

‘If you observe a person or thing, you watch them carefully, especially

in order to learn something about them”

(Cobuild Advanced Leaner’s Dictionary)

Then, we step into our field – SEN. When we teach children with special needs, we have to be prepared to understand how they feel when someone is observing their classes. Most of them do not feel comfortable. They will avoid contact, perharps they will leave the room or they will not have any formality to ask, “Who are you?”  “What are you doing here?” or “Teacher, who is this lady?”. A good suggestion is, if you are dealing with this kind of student, prepare them before the visitor comes to your class. You can say something like, “Next week, we will have a person in our classroom. She is a teacher like me and she will be here learning with us. Please, guys, do not forget, this is really important to us.” I assure you they will not forget and they will be waiting for the person. Explaining what is going to happen is  the the best choice for all of us. In addition to, the same situation may happen to our “regular”  students –  3 possibilities might appear in some observations:

#1  They will talk to each other, whispering, “Who is he or she?” That is the best day of our class. If for a miracle they are not noisy , they become the best class ever…

#2 If they are shy, they will be even more shy.

#3 If they are very young learners, they will look at you and say, “I like you, but I prefer Teacher…” most of the time…

Another suggestion: take a couple of minutes and read this fabulous post by Vicky Loras

To finish up, be observed or observe a special classroom or a traditional one! It is a great time to learn and share with great educators and teachers. Most of the time, our students enjoy the moment and some of them give us support that we can never imagine. In all observations, I could have done my best but we have to keep it in mind that we are not robots and mistakes are welcome to in our classes and our lives. “We live, we learn.”

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