Lesson 62 The Perils of Classroom Observation

Lesson 62 on Being an unintentional agent of change.

Owen’s class was “challenging” to say the least, and their poor teacher tried everything to get through each day without major incident. She prepared mountains of work and activities.  She praised good behaviour, she applied the recommended sanctions for bad. When that failed, she raged and threatened.  Treats and bribes were withdrawn.  The worst offenders were banished to distant corners.

As the days went by, however, I noticed that the class were strangely untroubled by any of this. In fact very little upset them. They only complained in earnest if they actually got hurt. True they made quite a bit of noise and fuss, if someone lunged in their direction, but it was just a ritual response. Only Aaron, the class outcast, got genuinely miserable and cried. 

It began to dawn on me that they related to each other by poking and jostling and arguing and shouting out. They had settled into a comfortably familiar pattern of behaviour. At certain points in the day things would escalate into a teacher meltdown.  Owen would be banished to the activity area.  Jimmy would be ordered to sit in his usual spot in the corridor. Arran would be moved next to Mrs Wise. A modicum of work would be done, till the next distraction simmered to the boil.

They were in a routine.  It just happened to be the wrong routine, as far as teaching and learning was concerned. It was pupil, rather than teacher, directed.

Threatened with Ofsted and the fear of a fail grade, Mrs Classteacher reacted with ever more desperate strictness.  She stopped liking her pupils. It’s very hard to like a class who threaten your employability. 

The class knew the score and they clearly felt this relieved them of the obligation to pay any heed to her.  There were some individuals who toadied up to her. They must have learnt this to be a useful strategy in dealing with authority figures.  The majority, however, seemed to regard her as just another adult cross they had to bear. 

One day Mrs Classteacher asked me what I thought of her chances regarding the inspection.  I answered as honestly as I could within the bounds of politeness, that they were borderline.  There were certain things commonly happening in class that would lead to a straightforward fail.

She was shocked.  I think she must have been expecting a more positive response.  You can get so used to bad habits that you stop questioning them and the class were little experts in behaviour management.  They had conditioned her into going along with their preferred pattern.

She never spoke to me again. After all, I couldn’t cope with the class myself, so what gave me the right to be so harsh a judge? But observers (and Ofsted inspectors in particular) don’t have to be able to do the job themselves.  That’s one of the reasons practitioners disparage them.  They just have to be able to tick off the required boxes.

Although Mrs Classteacher didn’t speak to me after that, she stopped doing the things I had mentioned.  I often wonder if the crafty old head allocated me to Owen’s class in the hopes of just such an outcome.

My services were suddenly and urgently required in another class.

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