On Friday, Megan Schmidt observed my classes and wrote my blog post. I am deeply grateful to her for (at least) three reasons.
First, she took the time out of her schedule and away from her family and students to fly over 900 miles to help me become a better teacher.
Second, she wrote the post on Friday so that I didn't have to. These things sometimes get burdensome.
Finally, her post and our subsequent conversations truly helped to put my teaching, my methods, my goals and my outcomes into perspective. By providing me with an outside view, not just as someone who teaches different classes, but in a different part of the country, she was able to see what I was doing without having to view it through the lenses of knowing my students.
I worry that same-school observers frequently come into the classroom already having a list of expectations based on the environment and the individual kids. I frequently see my coworkers either smile or roll their eyes at the mention of a specific student. While there is value in knowing the environment and the students, what I look for in observations is how I am interacting with students. I believe that the best way to receive such feedback is to have the observer not have preconceptions about specific students.
I have been worried that I wasn't "doing enough" with my students. Consciously, I know that relationship building is a major element of education, but it's so difficult to push aside the thought that says "I'll learn about my kids later. Right now, we have content that we HAVE to cover."
For some reason "I haven't covered as much content because I've been developing relationship with my students and making them feel like humans instead of robots" still feels like an excuse.
I know that I have a long journey before I'm the teacher that I want to be, but Megan's observation and feedback made me feel as though I'm on the right path.
I will be sure to bookmark it and read it when I feel that I'm losing my way.
My colleagues on Twitter and throughout the internet are my compass. I owe Megan, and everyone else, deep thanks for helping to remind me of my journey and my path.
It's all too easy to forget the progress that we've made and focus only on the pain, frustration and struggle. Having someone unfamiliar with the environment come and see what you're doing provides such an incredible service.
They lift you up above the canopy and let you see how far through the forest you have come. They also help you to get your bearings, find your path and keep moving.
I try not to give advice to other teachers because I don't feel as though I know enough to help people in a meaningful way. I offer up my experiences in this blog as a way to allow people to empathize and know that there are other teachers out there who know what they are going through; who struggle with the same or similar problems.
I will, however, break with my stance and offer this piece of advice:
For future teachers, new teachers, old teachers and administrators, I strongly advise you to leave your rooms and go observe another teacher. I don't mean someone down the hall, although that should be done too. Find the time to go to another school, another content area, another grade, and watch. See what you like and what you don't.
Providing meaningful, actionable feedback to another teacher will help you to think about what you are doing in your own practice. This I promise you.
Megan and I have been talking lately about the importance of time for teachers to collaborate during the school day. My experience with having her visit my classes, and her experience of visiting, only serves to underscore this point.
Megan, thank you so much for helping me to continue my journey towards being the teacher I want to be. I am forever in your debt.
The rest of you: Get out there and observe other teachers! And have them observe you! (If you have the chance.)