Monday, March 24, 2014

A Missing Link

On Friday afternoon, I took the opportunity to do something I haven't done in a really, really, really long time.  I watched a teacher teach.  I didn't read about a teacher teaching, I didn't participate in a meeting about teaching, I didn't favorite a Tweet about great teaching, I didn't even watch a video clip of a teacher teaching.  I actually watched a teacher teach from the beginning of the class period until the end.  I know it sounds crazy, but it's true.

As an undergraduate, I had spent some time observing teachers, but was shortly thrown into student teaching the second half of my senior year, and forced to tread water.  Don't get me wrong, this was a fantastic experience in learning what not to do, and in figuring out how much I really didn't know how to do.  It wasn't until I graduated college and couldn't find my first job as a classroom teacher that I truly  began to feel ready to be one.  In late August, I finally found a position as a paraprofessional, and it turned out to be the stepping stone I needed.  Every day, for an entire school year, I got to watch teachers teach.  I got to see how teachers began their classes, assessment tools they used, and behavior management systems and strategies.  I got to see how teachers reacted to the unexpected, and what really happens when there is a substitute teacher in the classroom.  I spent 180 days in a variety of classrooms, watching teachers with a variety of strengths, and my approach to education began to become a sort of patchwork of best practices.  I had so many ideas that I actually saw working, and I couldn't wait to have a classroom of my own.  I promised myself I'd continue to learn in this way, and I was off to start my first job.

Then, I became a real life teacher, and I just didn't have time anymore.  Observing other teachers became a "maybe if I have a free period," and then other more important tasks simply took precedence.  After Friday, however, I know now that I need to reorganize my instructional priorities, and that watching teachers teach was and still is the best way to learn.

As a teacher in a semi-paperless classroom, I was interested in seeing how a paperless classroom other than my own actually worked in practice.  Enter Kerry Gallagher, a paperless teacher just across the street from me at the high school (who has a fantastic blog.) In two minutes, I was able to leave the four walls of my classroom, and get some quality mid-day professional development.  At first I found it sort of awkward to not be the instructor in the room; I was so used to getting the class started, and checking in with students along the way.  I was so used to being in charge. It took a lot for me to sit back and watch, especially when many of my former students were in the classroom. However, it was really fascinating to see the classroom from a learning perspective, and learn I did.

I've attended a lot of workshops, read a lot of books, and scroll Twitter every day feasting on the banquet of knowledge there is out there on education. I love it, and I learn so much.  As valuable as this is, I can't help but feel that consistent peer observations are the one thing missing from my development as a professional.  I loved seeing a class from start to finish, and seeing the similarities and differences between Kerry's instruction and my own.  I loved seeing Kerry's approach to "paperlessness," and I love the fact that I came away from a 50 minute class period with new ideas for my own classroom. I can't help but feel as though engaging in this experience more often would be invaluable to improving my teaching.  It would be amazing for this to be commonplace in schools across the country.  I think we'd realize just how much we truly can learn (for free!) from one another.

Through this experience, one thing became more clear to me than ever before.  TEACHERS NEED TO DO THIS! Not once in a while, not once a year, but as often as possible.

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