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"This is the most exciting day of my life...and I was pulled on stage once to dance at a Bruce Springsteen concert."
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Wednesday, February 23, 2005

I Always Feel Like Somebody's Watching Me

Every first year teacher has their fair share of hurdles and obstacles to overcome. One of the hurdles involves getting observed a number of times. For most of us, observations are old hat since we got observed many times over during student teaching. But while we know it comes with the territory, this doesn't mean it ever gets any easier being watched.

Looking back on my days as a student, I can distinctly recall instances where my teachers were being observed. We always knew there was something special going on because our teacher was just a little bit more patient and praiseworthy. Whatever. Let's not mince words. Our teacher's became F-A-K-E. We laughed about this at recess, only half realizing the implication of what was going on. When I started teaching, that's one of the things I swore I would do differently. I would be me, no matter what.

In my district, first year teachers are observed four times, usually before March since that's when they do their hiring/firing, musical chairs assigning time. Sometimes, these observations are unannounced. There are both pros and cons to this. Pro- If you know where and when you are going to be observed you can prepare your room and a kick ass lesson accordingly. Con- you have a certain degree of anxiety knowing exactly when it's coming. Having been through both kinds of observations I can't say for sure one is easier than the other.

Observation #1- It was the end of October and I still hadn't been observed a first time yet. Even if you don't know exact times, there are basic guidelines to the where's and when's. The vice principal called me up one day and asked me when would be good for me. So we settled upon a good time for both of us. But he never showed. I was observationally stood up, which spawns a whole new breed of insecurity. After the fact, I was told I should have reminded the "absentee professor", but silly me didn't think to stop my lesson to call him to tell him where he should be. So instead, I approached him and suggested a different day. Luckily, that time he remembered. Obviously he's a laid back guy. So, the observation itself went well.

Observation #2- I was contacted via email by the district math supervisor. Not only did she tell me a specific date and time, she sent me a virtual laundry list of all of the things she'd be checking for when she came. Immediately, I went into panic mode. It was good to have a month or so's notice, but that meant I had the time and NO EXCUSES to fulfill all of her requests. Shit. So, I took it one day at a time and prepared a hands on math lesson, really pretty like.

I knew this woman from in service orientations and this woman, in one word, was the embodiment of INTIMIDATION. Everyone told me though that she was really nice. So the only other variable that was out of my hands was the kids themselves. At the last minute, I decided to tell them we would be having a "special visitor" who would be observing them, in the hopes of securing their good behavior. Only this strategic move backfired.


On the day of the observation, my class was, quite simply,was the worst I've ever seen them behaviorally. I have a few class clowns, spread out in my classroom set up like constellations in the night sky. One class clown (who never has his meds) was shining particularly "brightly" that day. I mean you KNOW it's bad when the observer has to go over to a student in YOUR class and reprimand him.

If I wasn't being observed, I would have handled it differently. But you don't act like yourself when you know you're being watched, no matter how hard you try. Plus, you don't know what said observer is looking for. Some respect that you keep a lid on things while some prefer a no nonsense, kick his ass to the curb approach. I opted with door number one and regretted my decision immensely. Still I managed to hold it together as she came over to me before leaving and complimented me on my lesson. I figured she had to be lying, sparing me considering how badly it really went and not wanting me to lose it right then and there.

At the end of the day, a fellow teacher who knew I was being observed, came up to me to ask me how it went. And that is when I lost it. Only problem was I hadn't dismissed the kids yet. So, I'm standing there, worst fears realized and I'm choking back tears to boot. A child in my class noticed. Another teacher attempted to cover for me saying she told me a really funny joke and that I laughed so hard that I cried. Some of the kids bought this, others didn't.

It wasn't until a few days later that, through word of mouth, I heard that the woman really did like my lesson. As it turns out, she was of the school of thought where she admired how I handled the pain in the ass child and she loved my classroom setup and actual lesson. This gave me renewed confidence. I was 2 down, 2 more to go.

Observation #3-
No matter how hard my last observation was, I knew I had merely won the battle, not the war. I had yet to be observed by the big cheese. The head honcho. THE PRINCIPAL.

Just like any other workplace, principals come in all shapes, sizes and mood swings. My principal is very moody and very fickle. She likes what she likes. She hates what she hates. She wants what she wants. And she has NO PROBLEM telling you this. Only problem is she might not like, hate or want the same thing the very next day. Yeah, it's like that.

My principal is also a woman who thrives on ruling through intimidation. So, in short, her observations are never announced. So imagine my surprise when after shuffling a few papers on my desk, I looked up first thing one Monday morning and noticed her sitting there in the back, demanding to see my plan book. This was also the mornign after a long weekend doing report cards. The same exact weekend I got my first speeding ticket.

By instinct, I wanted to go into panic mode only thing was there was another teacher in my room at the time as the reading specialist often comes in to assist with teaching writing. We never formally plan this though so on this particular day the lesson was really all hers, not mine. She also came late, so by the time the principal got there the kids were dilligently working on their assignments while myself and the other teacher circulated.

And really that's all she saw.

At first, she barked something about my lesson plans and not being able to follow them. But 20 minutes later, she was commending my plan book.

She loves me. She loves me not. She loves me...

I just figure as long as I ended on a high note when the music stopped playing, I'd be good to go. She left and in my formal evaluation commended me on a job well done, even handing me so A's (A meaning accomplished). I was commended by office staff for a job well done since she it is so unlike her to praise.

Only problem was, I had no idea what she was praising. The lesson wasn't mine. There was next to no "teaching" invovled and still, she loved it. All I was told was to just not question and be happy with what you got.

So three observations in the hole and now I can breathe a short sigh of relief.

And then, the email came.

Observation #4- Coming March 1st to a classroom near you.



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