East should stop announced teacher observations

Unannounced teacher observations open up the possibility for a greater learning experience for students, and better assessment of teacher performance.

Courtesy of thinkLaw.us

Unannounced teacher observations open up the possibility for a greater learning experience for students, and better assessment of teacher performance.

Imagine being a student in biology class on a day when the head of the science department, a principal in the school, is scheduled to complete a mandatory teacher observation. Does it not seem natural that a teacher would change their plans and teaching methods to comply with all of the mundane standards and procedures that administration forces upon the staff? Is this wrong?

Cherry Hill East High School has to abandon the policy of pre-announced observation visits to the classroom for teachers. It is a policy that holds no water in terms of its ability to accomplish the goal of seeing if teachers are following all the rules and regulations that the school forces them to comply with daily.

Take the 4-3-2-1 self-assessment/rating system. Most students would be in agreement that this is only put to use when principals are in the back of the classroom, writing down a teacher’s perceived strengths and weaknesses based on what they are witnessing in the classroom on that day.

It is human nature to aspire to be perceived as better than one truly is, so it should not be to the fault of a teacher if they do the same. However, this is not to say that they should be faking

what they are instructed to be doing everyday. The standards they are given are supposedly proven to increase any number of facets of education. However, if teachers do not see them as effective, there is no point in their implementation in the school curriculum because they will not be followed.

Therein lies the issue however: administration will continue to have no way of knowing if their rules and methods are being absorbed by the student body if they continue to rely on announced teacher observations as their main medium for grading teacher performance.

Students, as the only people in the school who experience how their teachers do their job, would appear to be the best source for the solicitation of information about their teachers and their methods of presenting information. However, the student body, collectively, is clearly not worthy of the trust administration would have to put in their testimony if the principals did so chose to act on student feedback in reprimanding or even firing a teacher. In addition, the possibility of replacing principal-based analysis with a peer-to-peer system with fellow teacher is inherently flawed because it fosters a distrustful working environment, which is the opposite of what East needs to promote. A cooperative and open society of teacher communication only betters themselves and their students.

William James Popham, professor emeritus at UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, wrote in his article “Teaching to the Test?” that “Whereas pre-announced classroom observations by a school administrator give teachers ample time to display appropriate lessons, unannounced observations do not. Unannounced visits, therefore, ought to work better than pre-announced ones.”

Popham, like most students but seemingly few administrators, realizes that the current policy only provides skewed data. Maybe it is wrong to force a principal to play police on the people they are supposed to help and support, as Popham does note, but it does not change the fact that announced teacher observations provide incomplete data and technically misrepresent teacher performance.

Should teacher observations be unannounced?

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If the standards themselves are inadequate and unbeneficial to student performance, that’s a different issue. And I digress, they certainly are. However, that is an issue for another time. Right now, the goal has to be allowing our principals to access the true picture of what goes on in their classrooms on a daily basis.

With announced teacher observations in use, this goal will be forever achievable.