I have had the opportunity to teach formally for an entire year (last year in the Czech Republic) and informally in a wide amount of places and contexts. Until last week however I had never observed an actual trained teacher teaching an actual high school class. A requirement of two of my classes this semester is to observe a total of 15 hours of classes and write a short paper about what I saw.
Though I have only had a couple months of official grad school education it was really interesting seeing theories and practices I have been learning about being used (and not) in the classroom. Most encouraging was seeing multiple teachers appearing to have the exact type of personality I have. Some of you who know me well probably have a good idea of what I’m talking about but for those who don’t I mean the following: Loud, witty, sarcastic and knowledgeable on their subject matter. It is somewhat affirming to see other people like me having also come to the conclusion that teaching was a good career choice.
The head teacher who arranged my observations did a great job giving me a wide variety of subject matter and levels within the entire department. I watched a couple high level and AP level classes and also saw a few lower-level and remedial courses for students who struggle a bit more with academics. What I took away from this was that whether or not a teacher was particularly engaging, the “smarter”, “better” students were almost invariably attentive, quiet and paid attention. On the other hand the lower level students were invariably louder and disruptive regardless of what the teacher was doing. At best many just tuned out to whatever the class was doing (cellphones in class=total fail 99% of the time).
I realize my descriptions above are troublesome and might even come off as a bit judgmental. To be fair one class that was middle of the road that appeared to be extremely ADHD at the start of the period calmed down remarkably once the main activity (a debate) began. My main point is observing makes my goal of being an excellent teacher one day much more complicated. I’m learning all these great theories and practices that should result in the vast majority of students learning and excelling. My observations show that teaching some students is infinitely more difficult than any classroom discussion or book can relate. I don’t have any rock solid answers at this point except to note that observing actual classes was extremely worthwhile.