If my experiences as a high school history teacher between the mid-1950s through the early 1970s is any guide, the answer is “very little.” If my seven years of experience as a district superintendent who visited classrooms weekly, the answer again is “very little.” And the answer then was straightforward: no time.
From scanning the Internet for surveys of classroom practice and teacher accounts, I suspect but cannot prove, the uncommonness of teachers observing one another in 2022. Why is that? The simple answer is time.
Elementary school teachers are responsible for teaching one class for the entire school day. While there are instances of schools where, say, three third-grade teachers plan lessons together and teach 90 children in large and small groupings as well as independent work allowing planning time for each of them–most elementary school teachers close their doors when the first bell of the day rings and spend the entire day alone (save for lunch) with their 25-30 students.
Secondary school teachers usually carry a teaching load of five classes (including multiple lesson preparations). In these classes, most secondary teachers see anywhere from 125 to 150 students a day. They march through a schedule of seven or eight periods where they will have at least one “free” period, that is, no students and, of course, lunch.
Yes, there are exceptions to these daily grinds. Some schools have block schedules where teachers spend an hour to hour and a half with groups of students. Nonetheless, nearly all public schools insure that teachers spend the day with the students assigned to them.
So even before answering the question this post poses, a prior question is: when can teachers find the time during a very busy day with their own students to drop in watch a colleague teach? They cannot. Unless teachers arrange beforehand with the principal for a substitute or have other teachers give up their “free” periods to cover their colleague’s absence, they cannot see colleagues teach. End of story.
Time for teachers to teach each day is tightly scheduled. Having an additional teacher added to the staff who can float and cover classes for teachers to observe colleagues would loosen the bonds somewhat. While a few school districts (there are 13,000-plus districts in the U.S.) fund “floater” teachers, most do not.
So let’s say that there are such districts allowing teachers to visit colleagues’ classes, what can teachers learn from one another?
Teacher Jennifer Gonzalez offers her experiences as an answer to this post’s question and goes one step further in recounting what she learned from observing colleagues.
I have always taught with my classroom door closed. Officially, it’s because I have trouble with distractions, which is not a lie: Just ask my family how often I yell for quiet when I’m trying to figure out my next Quirkle move.
The unofficial reason is that I don’t really want other people watching me teach. Alone with my students, I’m a different person: I let my guard down in a way that I never do with co-workers, even people I’m comfortable with. My students get the most relaxed, funniest side of me, the side I’m not sure my colleagues would appreciate or approve of. It’s not that I do anything inappropriate – not really, anyway – but I am definitely more likely to say “booger” and “crap” when my door is closed. For that reason, I’d rather not have guests in my room.
Apparently I’m not alone. In my sixth year of teaching, our principal wanted us to learn strategies that were just being introduced by Marzano and company. Everyone got a copy of the book, we had meetings where the strategies were explored, and we collaborated on how to implement them into our lessons.
Oh, and he also wanted us to observe each other using the strategies in our teaching.
People FREAKED OUT. Not about having to read another book or try new strategies. It was the peer observation. Lost their ever-loving minds. “I don’t want someone else in my room looking for mistakes!” They said, all in a tizzy. “And I don’t want to be the observer either! Who am I to tell someone else what they’re doing wrong?”
Eventually, because it was mandated, they had to get over it. But their initial response showed a lack of understanding for how truly amazing peer observation can be. If we can get past the discomfort, opening our doors to other teachers can be a fantastic source of professional development.
In the next post, Gonzalez recounts the reasons she observed colleagues.