The serendipitous timing of a three hour layover in Newark must be maximized with a reflective blog on my weekend in Pennsylvania. Specifically, about my day spent observing Justin Aion in his classroom. If you follow Justin on twitter, read his 180-blog, or have the privilege of knowing him personally, you’re no doubt familiar with his harsh assessment of himself as a teacher and his no-nonsense way of sharing his opinions. I knew heading into a day of observing his class that I was in for a treat, whatever that meant.
Justin let me blog about the experience as his daily entry, so if you’re interesting in reading about the amazing time I had, head on over there and get reading. In the meantime, I want to discuss some implications this day-long observation had on me in my role at my school.
As a department head, I have the chance to view the classes of multiple math teachers, once, sometimes twice a year. I find these opportunities incredibly valuable and I always have a take-away from each observation I do to benefit my own teaching practice. Usually, I have a 20-30 minute conference with the observed teacher where we can reflect on what is working and how the students responded to the lesson. These “after parties” are, hands-down, the most important part of the observation process because it is in those post-conferences that enlightenment results from the insights an outside observer can provide. Unfortunately, because all of these interactions have to happen outside of the school day, many of the important issues that arise in these post-conference meetings cannot be dissected and fully examined and therefore result in little or no long-term changes. For example, in the post-conference, a question addressed is “What changes or modifications would you make in the lesson?” A few lines are filled in on a form and off they go to teach the next group of students. The discussion simply doesn’t happen because there’s not enough time to have it. And because these observations are shared only with a small group of people (an administrator and an instructional specialist), there is no discussion of what issues arise over and over again in multiple classrooms. As a result, few can benefit from the individual observation. And there are hundreds of them done in the district each year. And it seems as though the math department as a whole isn’t able to reap the maximum benefits of having a trained observer visit classrooms.
What was different about observing Mr. Aion’s class was that the observation happened from 6:30am until 2:50pm, but the post-lesson conference went on for the rest of the weekend. I’m obviously not suggesting that we all spend a weekend math retreat discussing pedagogy over Thai food and club soda, but the conversations we have as teachers with teachers are important.
Important and not valued.
In fact, any time that isn’t spent actively teaching or planning and grading is consistently shoved outside of the 7-3 school day. And it seems as though the teachers who want to engage in those discussions and realize their value must sacrifice personal time in order to do so.
Here’s another example: Just today, at lunch, one of my colleagues brought up his frustration with a student that we share. His grievances aren’t unique to this particular student and highlight an ongoing struggle that all teachers in our department share. We were able to have a very meaningful discussion and came to a workable solution for this kid. The problem: this conversation, while incredibly productive, had to happen during our already rushed lunch period.
I think this bears repeating: Teachers need time during the school day to talk with other teachers. And I don’t mean to lesson-plan for common preps. I mean to really dig deep into the outcomes of our teaching and have meaningful discussions on how to better serve all of our students.