By Jonathan Penley
I’d like to explain – as best as I can – why I am a bit hesitant to embrace whole-heartedly the idea of peer observations espoused by Jennifer Gonzalez in her reading, “Open Your Door: Why We Need to See Each Other Teach.” Please note this does not mean I am at all averse to the idea – just guardedly hesistant.
The problem I have is the same as for Gonzalez. I like being in my bubble. I feel that I have a fairly good rapport with my students, and for the most part (there were tears over the last test in one class) I feel everything works like a well-oiled machine that occasionally needs maintenance. Everything seems to work, and my grandfather (a father figure stand-in) always said, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it!” It’s not that I don’t update my material; I stay up on current knowledge since I’m a news junkie (yikes, sometimes the information in textbooks is so out-of-date!), I switch out tests and questions semester to semester, I change lab activities, I update and improve as I go. I feel that I am a much better teacher, a much stronger teacher than I was just a few years ago.
So should I ask other teachers to come observe and critique me? I have seen outside my bubble; I have seen and heard about how some teachers:
- use the same photocopied handouts, assignments, and tests that they did fifteen years ago;
- will base an entire semesters grade on just two papers and one test;
- will let a student miss all semester long, but still pass them;
- will not let a student makeup a test when they were in the hospital due to an accident;
- how teacher #1 will have half their class fail and the other half drop, but teacher #2 has students with all A’s, for the same class.
And these are the people that I’m possibly considering taking advice from? Is that dangerous? I don’t see how any of the above will lead to significant retention for the school. I once explained what cellophane is to a student, and that is why their photocopied handout looks so weird; I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry while I observed their face as they realized that the original was probably older than they were.
I realize everyone has their own personality quirks, and maybe there are good reasons for their (to me) questionable decisions. In my opinion though, there needs to be a ‘line in the sand’. It can be a wide line, but it should still be there. That line – I feel – is where we can use Gonzalez’s ideas to better ourselves as teachers, improve our students learning and experience in education, and assuming everything works well, increase student retention rates here at Butler. I feel one component of what I might like to do in some of my blogs this year is to identify how to characterize that line – without curtailing anyone, or ostracizing anyone, or marginalizing anyone. AVID might be one approach, but I almost feel as if there must be also some kind of ‘grassroots’ approach, that gets everyone on the same page, feeling like a member of the same team, depending on each other. I’m sure it is always just around the corner, being chased by administrators and professional development gurus.
All of my doubts about some fellow instructors aside, I am fully aware that there are fantastic, standout teachers here at Butler, and I would love for them to come to my class and tell me all about my secretly buried doubts that have existed from day one: am I doing a good enough job? Do I talk too much in class (I suspect yes)? Are my tests too hard, or too easy? Am I too lenient on my students when I give them a second chance? Am I too hard on them when they blow a second chance and I give them a zero? I’m sure every teacher has similar doubts, but it would be great to discuss them with a knowledgeable person.
The worst question of all: what do I do when one of the fantastic, standout teachers says that “Yes, your tests are way too hard! – or that, “Yes, you are being too easy on the student that missed two weeks of class, give them the boot!”? What do I do then?
I don’t know what I would do, which is probably why I feel pretty safe in my bubble. 🙂