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Under the Microscope in English Class

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As happens to all new teachers periodically, I’m having a formal observation this week in my English 9 class. My principal, Mrs. Stratton, will enter the class, sit silently to the side, and note everything I do, say, or indicate with a motion or facial expression. The students will begin the class quietly, a little nervously, until they realize her presence has nothing to do with them. Then they’ll be their normal easily-distracted-bored-by-learning-trying-to-find-their-place-ninth-grade students. I really like this class, and sometimes we have a discussion that surprises me. But I hope I don’t get any surprises next Wednesday.

Every detail of the lesson must be planned in careful increments. I’ll have an opening motivational activity, which must refer to the previous knowledge of the students and excite them about what we’re about to do. I’ll have a basic instructional module, which will present new information. Then we’ll go into a group reading, in which we’ll delve further into the story of “The Scarlet Ibis”. A second instructional module, which will present the idea of a symbol as a way to present meaning and theme, will follow the reading. Finally, the creative application part of the day – “the students will create a personal symbol to represent their self-image as a way to understand the purpose of symbolism in the text.”

I must remember to have a strong closure activity to “leave ‘em wantin’ more”. What could I do that would make the 14 year old students want to come back tomorrow and read more about the sickly and weak main character of the story? I’ll tell them about the graduate course I’m taking which required me to make a project with a personal symbol of my leadership style. I’ll show them my collage, with a picture and text, and let the students know I also resented spending my Sunday afternoon on homework. Still, when it was done, I was very proud of it. I’ll share my pride with my students, too, in the hopes that they’ll look forward to successful completion of this assignment. Then I'll try to get them interested in describing their own character through use of a personal symbol.

After the observation I will get to sit down with Mrs. Stratton and hear her evaluation of my performance as a member of her instructional team. Since I’m older and wiser this discussion doesn’t make me nervous. I’ve learned that hearing someone else’s opinion of my performance isn’t personal, but it can help me become better at what I’m doing. I won’t be offended if she proffers criticism, unless it is something beyond my control. Like the fact that things don’t stay plugged in the wall, that the room is incredibly hot and lacks ventilation, that there are two students with emotional challenges that sometimes need breaks and diversions, or that the student who’s been absent for a week may come and won’t have a clue what we’re doing. But then part of the observation process is watching how the teacher anticipates the unexpected and handles challenges. If the students surprise me, I need to be ready to respond.

The best part is I have a second observation in my World Civilization class in just two weeks … and two more in the spring. Does all this sound familiar to you?

Have a good week!

1 Comment

I appreciate your comments, and I sympathize!
I taught 7th and 8th grade (by way of an alternate certification program--B.A. and M.A. in U.S. History) for 17 years, and loved it! I was elected as Vice President of our Teacher union, and every day I hear from our members about the assault on their time, respect, and the fun that teaching once. Among other injustices, Teachers who are daily working miracles against unreal odds, are now being asked to "prove" they deserve more pay through the performance of their students and the completion of unrealistic "clerical" papaerwork duties. I will not rest until all this changes for the better. I commend you for your dedication.

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  • John: I appreciate your comments, and I sympathize! I taught 7th read more

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