I like to enter the classroom seven minutes after I agreed I would arrive. That way if the teacher hasn’t started teaching, out of fear of me missing the start of their performance, I can downgrade them, or, if they have started teaching, I can downgrade them for being impertinent.
My preferred position during the input is in the direct eyeline of the teacher. That way they can see every eye-roll, every check of my watch, every baffled squint at their plan, every raised eyebrow and, most importantly, every scribble of my pen.
Over the years I have perfected the ‘click’ of my ball point pen. The ‘quick-click’ for when I simply must note down an inadequacy that has just occurred. The deliberate ‘click…click’ that allows the teacher to really feel my disappointment. Then there is the ‘click and put away’ which signals to the teacher that I have given up all hope of seeing anything else worth recording.
Of course, it’s always important to carefully select the lesson itself when observing. Don’t just pick a random week of the term for your observations, look at the programmes of study. You don’t want to watch a lesson on calculation…boring! All they have to do is follow the damn policy and not say ‘take-away’ too many times. Any HLTA can do that. You want to choose something like ‘telling the time’. I’ve never once seen a lesson on time that actually taught anybody how to tell the time. They all sit there, looking down at the children, holding an outward facing clock close to their chests. Then they start stammering with self-doubt, as they try to remember whether a reversed twist of the dial will make the big hand quarter-past or quarter-to. Meanwhile all the little kiddies have discarded their mini plastic clocks in favor of getting Siri to tell the time in Swahili from the convenience of their apple watch.
I will loathe your tedious progressive approach to teaching. I will barely be able to contain my rage as you trot out your traditional patter. I will walk out of the room if you put on a hat and I will deduct points for every time you use your real voice. Your getting them quiet techniques are appalling. You should be using lollypop sticks to select which children respond to your closed-open-ended questions whilst simultaneously reading out your prepared questions for each and every child. Your use of thumbs up get the thumbs down from me, and, the less we talk about your metacognition strategies the better although why you are not encouraging children to learn learning is beyond me. If you decide to teach anything in a way that I have not taught it myself, I will beat you to death with my laminated copy of the teaching standards. (Circa 1985, 2012, 2017, 2020: which ever version I deem appropriate.)
After the teaching input – which will be too long or too short but never just right, trust me – you get to talk to the children. You wonder how we always know which children to go and speak to? How we always manage to pick the children you least want to represent the impact of your teaching? It’s not some innate knowledge that observers pick up like a vegan smelling hummus at a festival. It’s not because we’ve studied your data. We’ve bribed them. Each round of observations we gather up the little darlings and ask them to learn absolutely nothing for three weeks in return for a week’s authorized holiday immediately after Christmas. So, it is no surprise that when we ask them the essential question: what are you learning? Their answer invariably sounds like something the love child of Stig-of-the-Dump and Piers Morgan would say after six pints of special brew and a fight.
Then there’s the work that is set for them. It will be too easy, too hard or too consolidating…depending on my mood at the time. The use of resources will either be too concrete, too pictorial or too abstract or none of the above…depending on how I feel at that particular moment. The children will be making no progress or not enough progress, or, just enough progress which will not be enough progress because I need progress to be accelerated.
The thrill of the hunt comes in the many different ways you can kill the beast. The NQT is the cleanest kill. A few comments about subject knowledge and behaviour management normally do the trick. If they try and tell you that behaviour has improved, a withering comment about low expectations normally finishes them off nicely. The more experienced a teacher, the bloodier it gets. But, as my mother always said, if there isn’t blood on your apron you’re only cooking chips. I normally like to find out which modern trend in teaching is currently sending these old-timers into anaphylactic shock and use it to beat them into inadequate with. The reflective teachers are normally the messiest. They try and head you off at the pass by telling you what was wrong with the lesson. Insolent buggers. They try and roll with the punches in the hope that knowing it was a total disaster somehow makes it all better. Afraid not. And, before too long, I’ll have landed on something that even they didn’t see coming (normally something British Values) and that will be that.
If all goes well, it will be a completely limiting experience and one that will stay on your record for twice as long as it stays in your mind. But don’t worry, at least you know I’m not allowed to judge lessons anymore. At least, that’s what I tell you.