The Thing About Teaching

This is such a broad topic, and I have wildly strong opinions about education in general and specifically about teaching.  But I’m going to focus here on the month of January. Whaaaat?  What does January have to do with anything?

I teach in a public high school in New York State.  This is my 18th year, and the ways that students are assessed and how teachers are assessed have changed dramatically since I started.

My first year at this school, the Assistant Principal who observed me had a stop watch. He would time everything.  How long it took for the students to sit down, how long for homework review.  And lastly, if a student started to pack up his/her notebook a minute before the period ended, that was reflected in my observation notes as that one minute X the number of school days = education time lost for that student.  All of which seems to be completely ridiculous.

Now the emphasis is much more on students being actively engaged, being able to answer and ask critical thinking questions, but most of all, how the students perform on standardized tests.

So what does this have to do with January?  We are formally observed a number of times throughout the year, have peer observations and, of course, administrators can, and do, come in whenever they want to see what we’re doing.  For one of these observations, we are given a “window” when we know for a fact that administrators will be coming in to do one type of observation.

My window is January.

I don’t believe teachers who say “They can come in whenever they want, I’m always on top of my game.”  That’s just not true.  No one can be at 100% top performance at all times.  That is just bluster and arrogance to me.

I do believe that some people worry more than others.  I know that I’m a good teacher, considered a great teacher by some.  My students usually do well on their assessments. I have good communication with parents and good relationships with most of my students. We all have students who drive us crazy and students have teachers that drive them crazy.  I’m that teacher for some students.  But not many.  I hope.

I worry about my observations.  A LOT.  Maybe because I grew up in a military family and it’s like having an inspection coming.  I’m über prepared every day that I know for a fact that administrators could be entering my class for a formal observation.  We’re supposed to be that prepared every day, but no one in any job is that prepared every day (I hope the President is but not counting him).

So here I am, on January 8th, checking my lesson plans over and over to be sure every i is dotted and every t crossed.  And what difference does it make?  Not to my job; I won’t be fired.  Not to my students; they’re getting a good education already.

It keeps us on our toes.  It gives us something to strive for.  But in many ways it’s fake. Observations are checks on a list.  Observations are required by the state to ensure that the administrators are doing their job by ensuring that we are doing our job.

But all the state really looks at?  Not that the teacher has instilled a love for knowledge, a quest for answers, a drive to provide an avenue for success for a student.

They look at how well teachers have prepared students for state exams.  How well students perform on state exams.  So that’s what administrators look for in the teachers. That’s what teachers look for in the students.

That is what January is for me.  My performance to ensure the above happens.  And in preparing students for these ridiculous tests, I also hope to instill a love of reading, to spark a light of interest, to send a student out of my class with a dream to learn more.

That’s the thing about teaching.




About Barb Knowles

The things that are important to me are family, friends, teaching, writing, languages and using my sense of humor to navigate this crazy world. Please join me on this blogging adventure...
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38 Responses to The Thing About Teaching

  1. annieg421 says:

    I’m writing liked as my like button has disappeared.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ritu says:

    Oh I totally agree with all you say. We can’t be prepared 100% of the time!
    One thing for sure, I’m 100% sure of my ability, but you never can tell if things will go to plan!
    Though we know we won’t be fired over any result, that it is merely a check list, it’s our pride in our job, our vocation, that gives birth to those nerves that I we feel, knowing someone will be observing us.
    Good luck though my dear, you will be great!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barb Knowles says:

      Thank you, and you’re right….it’s professional pride. But I think the fact that, at least here in the U.S., we are dictated by the horrible assessments that make all the kids perform like little robots, and requires us to teach to the exams, is horrid.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ritu says:

        Oh it’s the same here in the UK too. I hate these assessments and benchmarks which don’t give any leeway for individual kids. Leaves some labelled as underachieving even though their strengths lie in other areas… went through it personally with my son last year. He’s not academic but creative, musical and sporty. Thankfully the secondary school he went to in September is great at pushing them in what they are good at as well as nudging them in the right direction where their weaknesses are.
        As a nursery and primary school teacher, I find it so hard to have to judge children who are so tiny… not even ready to write, yet already being ‘marked’!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I wish there was more passion and teaching in education and less testing of both students and teaching. Real life isn’t full of exams it is full of lessons. Great post and good luck with your January.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. stomperdad says:

    Ugh… teaching students to take a test is not teaching, it’s preparing. I remember being observed while I was teaching in VA. I never really stressed over it because I knew I was doing a good job, but I was always curious to know how I’d done (I still have the results all my observations!). But no matter how often we were or weren’t observed, it all came down to how well our students performed. I totally understand you here…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. George says:

    Teachers teach for a standardized test now. Creativity has been taken away. Very sad.

    Liked by 1 person

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  7. Bea dM says:

    Observation that’s so techinical doesn’t sound very effective. Until a couple of years ago, one of my jobs as a consultant was to supervise language trainers in a large corporation with surprise visits in most of their locations in the country. But it had nothing to do with test results. I obviously expected top-rate in-depth language skills from trainers – including some flavour of “mainstream” accent -, but the real focus was on getting the pulse of teacher attitude and energy, class dynamics and participation. You can get a good grasp of what’s really going on in just ten minutes! Do relax, you sound like a dream teacher 🙂 I hope you get your observation it over with asap!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Val says:

    In my opinion tests, exams and observation don’t help anyone except bureaucrats and, surely, that’s why they exist – to keep them in their jobs? Sorry you have to go through all this crap. You and your students. (It’s the same in the UK. Has been for as long as I can remember though it’s got worse in the past couple or so decades._

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barb Knowles says:

      The tests are designed by business people, not teachers. That says it all. And the head of the education department nominated by future President Trump is no friend of public education. So it will only get worse, I’m afraid.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Paul says:

    The best teachers I ever had were the ones who taught the material without me even realizing that they put together a comprehensive lesson plan. It didn’t feel like school – it felt like they were telling me things I needed to know. That was real teaching.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Ann Coleman says:

    I’m sure you are a wonderful teacher, but I understand your anxiety on being observed. It’s sad that they can’t judge teachers by what really counts: instilling a love of learning, an open mind and the ability to think critically. But you’re still working towards those goals, even if they don’t necessarily show up on standardize tests, and that’s what counts!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. As someone who has had many observations, and done many observations, I am sure it will all turn out fine. I completely agree with you on standardized tests. All people do not relay their knowledge in the same way, and by assessing students the same way, we don’t give room for this. For instance, many students can express ideas/knowledge orally, but don’t do well on paper/pencil tests. We have to move away from this in education. I am fortunate to be a part of a district that is moving towards standards-based grading where students can demonstrate mastery of concepts in many different ways. In the upper grades we are working on project-based learning to incorporate multiple disciplines – to model what students will truly do in life, where math is not a silo separate from English….. We are still tied to the “state tests” however. I would love to see districts being given the option of a waiver from standardized testing and be able to demonstrate student learning through digital portfolios that focus on student mastery and growth. Best of luck in your observation window!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barb Knowles says:

      Thank you! In our district a lot of parents are opting out of state assessments, which is wonderful. In the high school, though, that can’t be done because our state tests are graduation requirements. Thank you for your comments 😃

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Lol. One time when the Principal wandered into my room we were having an argument on whether or not tattoos are a good thing. I was full on arguing that the kids shouldn’t get one till at least 25 as they don’t really know what their adult tastes will be till then. He was standing outside the window listening for a while before coming in. oopsy 🙂 Very on-track!! ho well!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barb Knowles says:

      I had mine the day after I wrote the post. My students, who are high school students who are just at the baby steps of learning English completely froze. Not one of them responded to me or looked at their books. Nor said one word to each other. So the admins saw me almost doing cartwheels to get them engaged. As soon as the admins left, one of the students said to me “They were scary.” Not my finest hour, but you can’t predict student reactions.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Mrs. Hebert says:

    I can relate to this post so so much. What can be even worse than the absurd ways that we’re evaluated as teachers is that I’ve seen (and experienced) administrators using those observations to manipulate teachers. True teaching can’t be measured on any kind of data scale.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Reading this brings me back to my teaching at public schools days. I only lasted a year in public school… I just did not like the overly detailed lesson plans (that I had trouble executing perfectly because I had the lowest class and they were had too many disciplinary problems), I did not like the feeling of being watched constantly and having the VP down my back, and I hated the fact that my students’ (third graders) future were determined by the score they got on their standardized assessment.
    It is now my second year teaching and I have switched to a private school where the pay is better, I don’t have the same extreme discipline problems, and I don’t have to turn in any lesson plans because a scripted curriculum is given to us. I definitely enjoy life WAY more now, and now when I have observations I do not feel worried because the principal gives me constructive feedback so I know exactly what to work on (without worrying about losing my job!). Sorry, rambled, but your post brought me back to how I felt this time last year at a public school! Good luck to ya! Check out my post about Direct Instruction (the style of teaching I use in private school) at

    Liked by 1 person

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