Being observed by a stranger…

A teacher’s observation, not a stalker story.

I was greeting students in the hall when I saw a person I did not recognize. The woman, nicely dressed with a district badge, quickly offered her name (which I did not catch), informing me that she was here to do my walkthrough observation. Mentally scanning my lesson plan, I thought okay, game on!

Beginning in 2015, New York State Law requires that teachers be observed by both a lead administrator and an independent one. A lead administrator is the professional with whom a teacher has a working relationship with, the independent observer cannot be attached to the school’s BEDS forms, and in my case, she was a stranger.

I have been observed countless times in my career, many observations unannounced. However, I have never been evaluated by a professional with whom I had absolutely no relationship. I have never had someone evaluate my teaching who was so unfamiliar. Furthermore, I have never had my yearly “score” tied to someone’s opinion of my teaching based solely on 15 minutes of classroom time.

Although I am a veteran teacher, I was still a bit apprehensive about this unannounced stranger observing my classroom. I quickly assessed the seating arrangement, needing to actually move a student’s seat because, with 29 students, a nurse, a teaching assistant, and myself in this classroom, it is almost standing-room only. Fortunately, it is also a fantastic class filled with thoughtful and reflective adolescents.

Luckily, I had a dynamic student-centered class planned. The class was engaged — showing both analysis and depth. The stranger smiled and nodded, she didn’t seem that out of place.

The following Danielson rubric, sent via the magic of the internet, relieved my anxiety because this stranger deemed me Highly Effective on that famous HEDI scale. I was, of course, relieved, but I can’t help but wonder how much time these “independent” observers are spending outside of their normal duties. Moreover, why has the teaching profession become a place where teachers are so untrustworthy that they need two different observers? Is this the wave of the future? Since 2012, many people have told me to calm down. They tell me this too shall pass. It is not “passing.” These changes are here. The high stake testing, the scoring of teachers, the reliance on DATA seem very permanent.

After the evaluator exited my classroom, a student asked me who “that person” was. I laughed and said: “I don’t know. New York State has mandated that teachers need to be observed by an independent evaluator.” My students let out a collective, uncomfortable giggle. Side conversations occurred, until one student, raising her hand, said: “That is stupid. You should be evaluated by your students.” I smiled. It was a very adolescent comment, but a very interesting suggestion.

When I teach as an adjunct at the college level, I do receive student evaluations. That feedback helps me learn and grow as an educator. Who better to “score” me than the people I have the most contact with and influence on? Although I could see many problems with adolescents “grading” their teachers, I would like to think on average, I would be evaluated fairly.

Overall, the entire APPR evaluation process has been very disillusioning. I am an experienced teacher — since 2012 each subsequent school year has been reduced to a score — my teaching fitting nicely in a rubric. Having many years remaining in the classroom, I am aware that flexibility is the key. However, I am not sure how much more that I can bend.


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