Robert Lynn Green
- I am a high school English teacher in an urban high school in Oklahoma City. I am a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 2309. I am a Democrat, a union activist and a worker for social justice. I also am a Christian (Congregationalist). I play chess and coach our school chess team.
Saturday, May 19, 2012
On Teaching in a Fishbowl
We have several groups and institutions interested in what's going on at Centennial HS, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. There are the usual interests: students, parents, building administrators and so on. To these we can add representatives from the Oklahoma State Department of Education, consultants from Pearson, the educational corporation that provides much of our curriculum, even my union, the American Federation of Teachers has teaching "coaches" called PARS, which stands for "Peer Assistance and Review, who are there to help new teachers in our building.
Friday, I had visits from several of these interests, altogether, all in one class period.
They showed up during my 1st period English 11 class. First, I had a woman who has been designated (by whom I'm not certain) as my "teaching coach" from Pearson. She came at the beginning of first hour to observe how the students come into the room, what beginning activities I have assigned them, what the objectives of the day's lesson were, and how I managed the class. Then came Principal Johnson with another Pearson representative. Ms. Johnson was for my formative assessment that the district requires of all teachers. The Pearson rep was there to provide his insights about my teaching. A few minutes after those three had arrived, the PAR teachers came in. I'm really not sure why they were there. I am not in our school's PAR program, so they must have just come in to watch me teach.
The really funny thing about the situation was that the number of observers nearly matched the number of students learning the lesson. We are experiencing a lot of student absences as we wind down to the end of this term. This period, which has always been small, only 14 on the roll, had only 6 students that Friday.
The lesson went well enough. The lesson was to compare how theme of personal responsibility is taught through film, using the movie Cars, and through a fairy tale about two intelligent brothers. I began by having the kids talk about their responsibilities for their families, their education, and their personal lives and used that to examine how responsibility acted as a theme for Cars. Then we read the story about the two brothers and did a Venn Diagram comparing and contrasting the different genres. The students were engaged, most of the time. in the lesson.
Afterwards, I conferred, first with the woman who is to be my teaching coach and then with Principal Johnson and the Pearson consultant (still waiting to hear from the PARs). They all apologized for "ganging up" on me and explained that each did not know that the others were going to there right then. (I'll save a discussion on communication for a later posting.) They all had helpful suggestions to help me as a teacher: things like having clearer goals for my students, finding ways to deepen the lesson, and doing assessments to insure by students really learn the objective.
These are all good things, but I think this incident is a metaphor for what can happen as we travel down the Road of Good Intentions. Conservatives complain constantly about government regulation. Liberals, like me, point out that those regulations exist because something needed correction. Our school has many things in need of correction. I need to improve my teaching. All of the people who came to my class want to help us make those improvements.
But it is easy for these things to get out of hand. I want the help these good people want to provide me, but I can't help but get the feeling that someone is always looking over my shoulder as I teach, that I'm "teaching in a fishbowl" and it is stressful to do so.
A week ago Friday, I "hit the wall" and needed to step out of the fishbowl for a day. (Pardon my mixed metaphor.) This week, I felt better and finished strong; however, I know of several teachers who have hit their walls. We a big problem with teacher absentees. We are all having to cover classes for teachers out of the building for various problems. In addition, we have many "long term" substitutes covering classes for teacher who have just given up. Some of our teachers say they don't plan to be back next year. There are a number of very good teachers who have had real success in the classroom whom we will miss very much if they go.
Perhaps, in our zeal to improve, we are knocking a lot of good people into the wall.