Grab yourself some graham crackers, marshmallows, and chocolate because this is bound to be a spooky one. Scary stories are always the most haunting when they hit closest to home, and I think many educators know all too well the crazy potential of an “unannounced observation”.
So we thought we would reach back in our minds to pull out some of our own memories of staff evaluations from our team members who used to be teachers. Some will make you laugh, and others might just make you cringe, but here are some of our most memorable experiences with teacher observations!
(Best enjoyed by a crackling campfire)
Folklore(d) of the Flies
It was a sunny day. That, to some, might sound like a “beautiful” day, but if you’ve ever taught in a classroom where the AC is broken and it’s the middle of May, then you know just how dreadful that sun can make the day.
Even with the windows wide open, and the two fans that I brought from home running full blast, every single person in that classroom was dripping with sweat. I was a first year teacher, and my 5th period Honors English class was filled with lively, energetic kids who were struggling to keep their eyes open in the heat.
Then the classroom door swings open, and in walks the school principal. He just smiled and took a seat in the back of the room.
TEACHER OBSERVATION?! No!! I had a very impressive plan that involved tons of student interaction, and this would have been the perfect class for that… but, the unbearable heat made us all barely human.
No sooner did he sit down; then did I regret the open windows for the first time all day. Flies. So many flies. Everywhere! They were viciously attacking everyone in the room. I couldn’t get a sentence out without a gigantic fly swan-diving into my forehead. Then, to make matters worse one of my sophomores leapt out of her seat, rolled up folklore study sheet in hand, and began to avenge her classmates’ discomfort with the flies. Jumping from desk to desk, she was on a mission.
My principal exited the classroom, and I spent the next 24 hours sweating bullets, even in the air-conditioning, because I was terrified of how bad this evaluation was going to be.
And Though They Be but Little...
In my early years of teaching I had a small third grade class, but it was and still is the most challenging group of students that I have ever run across. To add insult to injury I was in my first year of teaching in a new district. The principal who hired me had warned me that I had challenges but none the less there he sat in the back of my class that late September afternoon.
During my pre-conference with the principal he assured me that I had done a good job in preparation of the lesson. However, it didn’t take long for things to fall apart. I began the class with a simple read aloud on the story, “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” that was supposed to set the stage for the writing assignment where the students were supposed to create a writing assignment based on the concept of the book. You know, “If You Give a Dog a Cookie”, “If you give a Rabbit a Cookie”. It should have worked. It was a high interest story, nice and short.
The only problem was I hadn’t counted on the type of interactivity from the students. A couple of the students didn’t quite get that during a read aloud the teacher would read the story, without help from the students! Instead they insisted that they could tell the story better than I could read it. I persisted when I should have settled them down. One or two students just thought it was hilarious and they just couldn’t (or wouldn’t) contain themselves.
I was now in "flop sweat mode". I could feel the presence of the Principal. “If only he weren’t here I thought. I know how to handle this.” But I was new. I couldn’t just stop. I had objectives, we had talked about goals, and even how I would close the lesson. I had to go on!
It’s an awful feeling when you’re new on the job and you need to correct a student, even reboot the lesson and gain control again. But I knew! I knew that he knew that this lesson was a disaster!! I got through it but I remember nothing outside of the feeling of dread and embarrassment.
After the lesson the principal was very nice. He told me, “Look, this happens to all of us.” We talked about the students in the class and what their needs were and where the lesson might have gone before it started going off the rails. He assured me that if I was ever in that situation again I shouldn’t be afraid to stop and regroup, focus on the students, not the principal.
I was fortunate that he gave me a “do-over” and let me do another lesson without this one counting against me I never forgot his kindness. The class continued to be a challenge for the remainder of the year but I never had an observation like that again. Ever!!
Packed Like Sardines in a School
The district in which I was teaching was busting at the seams. Student enrollment was at an all-time high and growing (and my school was no exception). The previous year we had two, very large fourth grade classrooms. But, this year we were forced to expand to four! Needless to say, finding suitable classroom space was an exercise in creativity. My room was one of the add-ons, basically a very large, long, narrow closet packed with 26 students. When I say long and narrow, I’m not exaggerating. We were able to comfortably fit two desks deep, 13 desks across. Leaving a bit of space in the front and even less in the back. As you can imagine, getting 5,000 steps per day in was not a problem. I was continually walking from one end of the classroom to the other. It was quite ... cozy.
It was an excessively hot day towards the end of May. We were in a room with no air conditioning, no ceiling fans, and a borrowed high-velocity, very loud, industrial floor fan placed in the doorway. We all prayed for even the smallest hint of air flow. We had just returned from a 45-minute break in an air conditioned classroom at the other end of the school. As we were returning to our room and putting away our traveling supplies - in walks the Principal. Followed closely by the Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent, Director of Curriculum, and another face I did not recognize. All wearing suits. None wearing a smile. My only thought was, "Oh no, I'm in TROUBLE!"
First order of business…find five chairs. I sent five students to neighboring classrooms to accomplish this task. Then came the comical task of wedging five chairs, in the back of the room, between students and the radiator. The observers managed to cram themselves into the allotted space. Now back to the students…
With all of the excitement it took some time for the kids to settle. We continued with a whole group discussion of the story we’d just read. But then was time to break into small groups. And breaking into small groups means movement. Sigh… This is a challenge on a normal day but with five additional people in the room it was going to be especially challenging.
In order for the students in the back row to get out of their seats the five administrators had to wiggle out of their seats and drag their chairs out of the way. Students got out of their seats, climbed over the extra chairs, and made their way to their small groups. At this point the administrators decided to walk around the room. They circulated the room for about five minutes and then, as quietly as they entered, they left.
I could only shake my head anticipating the post-conference conversation.