One of the peculiar things about teaching that I’ve realized over the last decade is that--no matter how long I’ve been in the classroom--I’m still going to come down with a bad case of stage fright whenever anyone “official” walks in; this includes assistant principals, principals, officials from the “network” (the shadowy body of administrators that supposedly oversees the running of our school and others like it, but really seems only to send down criticisms to the teachers, without any clear plan for how to improve our instruction), up to officials from the city and state. Which is, of course, exactly who visited yesterday and the day before.
Our school was up for “Quality Review,” which meant that most of the teachers were walking on eggshells the entire time while an “evaluator” from NYCDOE came in and out of our classrooms, sat in on department and grade-team meetings, and generally created an overall atmosphere of being scrutinized under a microscope. We had spent a month preparing lessons and unit maps before the visit, as well as making sure our lessons were aligned with the Danielson Rubric. And still, when the evaluator walked into my classroom, I froze--and then started reading the “AIM” for the wrong lesson, before I recovered and proceeded with the agenda I had planned.
For a long time I assumed that the experience of teaching 34 kids every single period of the day would make me get over the stage-fright that has plagued me since childhood. However, I’ve realized that teaching is entirely different than any other type of performance; even if I still practiced piano, for instance, I believe I’d still be unable to get up and play in front of a crowd of people without messing up my piece (which was a constant problem in my youth--my fingers would turn to jelly at every piano recital) no matter how many students I had stood up in front of. Teaching, because it involves so much interaction with the students, is an oddly more intimate type of performance, if you can think of it that way. And having a stranger come into the class throws off the delicate balance. Everything suddenly seems self-conscious and awkward. I get nervous. My legs feel a little like jelly. I forget what lesson I’m trying to teach.
The kids feel similarly nervous. In more than one classroom that was observed, teachers reported to me that the kids clammed up and would not talk about discussion questions or implement classroom procedures that, until the morning of the evaluation, had been second nature. This of course begs the question of how helpful it is for the students to have these types of observations, and--as one commenter on last week’s blog post pointed out--what the possible benefit is of having these visits announced in advance, giving everyone (students and teachers) time to choreograph the heck out of everything and get intensely anxious.
So, we’re all glad the Quality Review is over. Now, we wait for the grade--sort of. Just like when I was younger, and I could practice piano alone in a room for hours without making mistakes, our classroom thankfully runs with more proficiency when we’re not under a microscope. Concern about our school’s “grade” can finally take a back seat to actual education.
The opinions expressed in View From the Bronx: An Urban Teacher’s Perspective are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.