Monday, April 16, 2012

Classroom Observation

I was observed about six weeks ago, and I finally got my class observation report this morning. It came with the acknowledgement that since this was a one-time observation, anything observed may or may not be representative of the semester in its entirety, that comments made about contextualizing assignments may have been done in a previous class, that observations are taken with a grain of salt, etc. Clearly there's the understanding - which I appreciate - that since a teacher is only observed during one class sesion (and not even an entire class session), that previous instruction is not witnessed; there's always an implication, too, that an otherwise good teacher or good class could be having an off day. The woman who observed me is nice woman, so far as I know her; she had some good things to say, and was also able to make some observations that I might take into consideration, but it got me thinking about the general strategies and policies that I've heard from other teachers.

Based on what I've heard from other teachers, I suspect my own policies are much stricter than those of other teacers:

  • I dont accept late work, although I explain and reiterate that if extenuating circumstances arise, or if a student is genuinely struggling, I want to know ahead of time so that something can be worked out. Due dates are arbitrary in a sense, but papers have to be due at some point. I have about 15 weeks in a semester, and I don't want however many students per class (and I often teach multiple sections) handing in 5 papers on the very last day of class because they couldn't, or wouldn't, do the work.
  • For the students' research paper, there are a handful of minimum requirements that, if they aren't met, will lead me to deduct ten points from their score for each requirement not met (for example, if a paper is not the minimum length; if in-text citations aren't used; if the minimum number of sources aren't used; etc.). I don't believe this to be unnecessarily punitive or arbitrary; as with any assignment or work-related task, there are requirements that must be met. The students know about this ahead of time - I give them a copy of the rubric when I assign the paper; expecting them to fulfill minimum requirements does not seem out of line. And we discuss these issues at length throughout the semester.

Now, clearly everyone has a different style of teaching, and what works for one teacher in one class may not work in another class, or for another teacher. And I remind my students as often as I can that if they have any problems whatsoever, I want to hear about them; if I dont know, I can't help them. But I consider much of what I do to be a form of high standards I want my students to reach; and you know what, most of them, if they do the work, actually do a good job. (And even if they didn't do a great job, they did an okay job.) I don't think I'm doing them any favors by allowing late work for no reason, or for telling them that it's acceptable if they hand in six pages of the ten-page research paper that I'd assigned. 

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