This year, I’ve been teaching Latin three days a week. One day is our “drop day”, and the other day is a refresher course for my students to keep up to date in Spanish. This means that once a week, I get to watch a masterful Spanish teacher work her magic on this class.
This has been amazing. I mean this in a complimentary way, but I also think it has important lessons for teaching and administering teachers, generally. For seventeen weeks, I’ve been able to observe this teacher strut her stuff in front of students! Once a week. Here’s what I’ve observed and tried to incorporate into my own teaching:
- She asks a huge number of questions.
- She makes students answer in complete sentences.
- She references specific places in the textbook.
- She makes students read aloud
- She makes them read, speak, write, and listen to the language.
- She corrects pronunciation frequently.
- She gives very little general praise.
- She directs praise to specific people for specific deeds.
- She uses music and art to teach
- She makes kids do a lot for themselves
- She demands correct spelling
- She encourages playful language while keeping strict classroom discipline
But I wouldn’t have seen all these very positive classroom behaviors if I’d only come into her room once. The fact that I’ve had a large series of experiences in her classroom leads me to a generally positive feeling about how she teaches, and how kids in her classes learn.
I’ve also learned a lot from her. I think my teaching has improved greatly as a result of exposure to her methods, and a rough imitation of them.
The take-away, though, is that a lot of schools don’t put enough priority on observations, they don’t give administrators enough time to see the same teacher often enough, nor enough time for teachers to see each other and learn from each other. If we want quality instruction, we not only have to identify great teachers, we also have to give them time to observe each other, over a long time. Only then can the lessons really be integrated into the school’s practice. Only then do the students really benefit from observations.