Thursday, October 29, 2015

Student Observers

My AP often sends student observers to my classroom. I have no problem with that, and I tell her so whenever she brings it up. I was a student once, and I feel it's a way of passing it forward or something. Still, supervisors ought not to be unilaterally assigning student observers to teachers. For one thing, there's specific language about who and how many people may observe your class, and student observers aren't included. For another, there are a variety of reasons you may not wish to have student observers. Maybe your students are sensitive. Maybe you are.

More to the point, though, if we are thoughtful, we don't simply dump people in classrooms and say, "That's the way it is." It's common courtesy to consult with the people in charge of said classrooms about any proposed changes. While I don't much care when student observers come in, I've been in classrooms where there aren't enough seats for my kids. In that case, forewarned, I might ask not to have observers in. I have had to ask student observers to get up so my kids could sit down. Had I known that would be necessary, I would have sent them elsewhere.

Most student observers are polite. I had one, though, who sat in the back of the class texting on a phone. I told her that it was inappropriate, and she claimed she was actually doing school work on her phone. I found this odd, because she also carried a laptop. I then told her to do her school work on her laptop, because whatever she was doing on her phone, she appeared to be texting. My students were not allowed to do that, so she couldn't do it either. I didn't need to revisit the issue.

I've only had one observer who I really had a problem with. This one walked into a small class I was teaching at Queens College. She turned on a tape recorder and my students all looked at her when she did it. This was problematic in that this was a class where I had to work very hard to get the students to talk and participate. I could see the tape recorder wasn't going to help. I asked her to turn it off.

"Why?" she asked.

"I'm not having this conversation right now. Please turn the tape recorder off."

"Miss Abromowitz lets me tape the class," she said.

"I'm not Miss Abromowitz. Please turn the tape recorder off."

She made some irritated noise, but complied. Later that evening I had to take the class to the language lab, where they listened to recordings and such. At one point, my student observer decided it was time to ask a question.

"What purpose does this serve?" she asked, in full hearing of my students.

"You can leave now," I told her.

"Why do you want me to leave? You can't do that."

"I can and I am. You now have a choice. You may leave on your own, or I will call security and have you removed."

That was the last time I saw that particular observer. I've no doubt she was happier with Miss Abromowitz anyway, whoever she may have been. I hope that doesn't happen again. My AM class is large, off the wall and unafraid of anything, but there are some very sensitive souls in my PM class. Maybe that's what differentiation is for. I think my AM class would be delighted to see me throw someone out of the classroom, but my PM class would be horrified.

Fortunately, I try to throw as few people out of the classroom as possible. Last year, when I got kicked out of the trailers after a full decade of exile, I became a little more conscious of what it means to be territorial. And every time it rains, or snows, or gets hot, or cold, and I'm indoors, I think about those trailers with inverted fondness.
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