On observing middle school misfits
November 26, 2012 1:30 AM   Subscribe

How to be a thoughtful observer during a friend's teaching of middle schoolers?

My friend is currently engaged in teaching a foreign language (for which I am a native speaker of) at a middle school as a temporary post.

She talked to me recently about the challenges she has been having there (disruptive behavior, a class that has a pretty intact collective identity that she hasn't really picked up on, their homeroom teacher that seems to know her difficulties but is somewhat proud of her class). It seems to have given her some stress as of late, but over a beer last week she asked if I was interested in observing her class one day. I'm not a teacher, but I've volunteered at schools before (after school reading, language tutoring, etc) and find the prospect of learning how the education system in a foreign country works--and I responded enthusiastically.

So my friend also hinted that I do some observation/critique for her (later this week...perhaps even tomorrow). We discussed possibly doing some kind of activity together for the class (still don't know exactly what at this point).

My question/s is/are therefore: what can I keep my eyes out for/take note of? Is there a way of observation (besides sitting in the corner taking notes furiously on a notepad) that will not disrupt the way things run normally during class?

Thanks a bunch for your suggestions and comments!
posted by wallawallasweet to Education (2 answers total)
I would encourage your friend to have an experienced teacher observe her. No offense to you but the dynamics/requirements of needing to control and manage a rowdy group are quite different to assisting with one. And while it can be very easy to see what is going wrong with a class, giving useful advice is quite complicated I think. I say this as a teacher who has observed, been observed, and been trained in observation/mentoring.

If you do go in I would ask your friend to be very clear about what she wants you to look for and make it specific. Don't comment on all her skills or lack of as a teacher- this is overwhelming and not productive. Focus on an element- management of rowdy students, instruction giving, engagement of students, etc.

Have her introduce you and be clear about a purpose- it is important that the students see that she ha agency in the decision to allow you in the room. imE informing them that you are there to help her achieve best practice is fine, and you can encourage them to see this as a strength of hers. This may depend on the cohort/dynamic but make a decision about how you will be presented before you go in.

Good luck
posted by jojobobo at 1:40 AM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

As an English teacher in Japan- I'd say give advice on her time management, presence in the classroom, clarity of explaining curriculum/activities, praise and rewards, etc.

I'd recommend not getting into discipline though.

The standards of discipline and classroom management vary from school to school depending on the teaching staff, PTA, student body, etc. If you see that discipline/management is an issue, then she should work with the homeroom teacher or fellow staff members on how to address the problem. Making major adjustments in classroom management that don't jive with the local system can turn students or teachers against you.

On that front, she'd probably get better ideas by sitting in on other teachers' classes in the school than by having you sit in on on her class.
posted by p3t3 at 4:52 AM on November 26, 2012

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