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Know your rights
Observation and evaluation
Classroom observations, when done properly and for the right reason, can help teachers become aware of their strengths and weaknesses, sharpen their skills and develop professional self-confidence. When observations are done in good faith, and criticisms are balanced and constructive, they can and should support pedagogical growth.
Unfortunately abuses do occur, so you should know what your supervisors can and cannot do according to the contract.
Supervisors are required to observe all teachers during classroom instruction periods and to write a report with an “S” (satisfactory) or “U” (unsatisfactory) rating for each observation. The number of times you’ll be observed varies according to your situation:
- New (probationary) teachers are generally observed a minimum of two full periods a year, though they may be observed more often. Some administrators have increased the minimum to six.
- Tenured teachers in elementary and junior high/middle schools are generally observed a minimum of one full period per year. Some administrators have increased that to two.
- Tenured high school teachers are generally observed a minimum of two full periods per year by an assistant principal and one full period by the principal. In some schools, the frequency is two a year.
The principal should tell you in advance that he or she will be formally observing you on a particular day. The union strongly recommends that you ask for both pre- and post-observation conferences, in writing if necessary. Use the pre-observation conference to clarify what your supervisor expects to see during the visit. He or she may ask you for a lesson plan. Following the observation, you should write down your recollections of the lesson, which will help you at the post-observation conference with your supervisor.
At the post-observation conference, your supervisor will discuss what he or she has seen and give you a written report of the observation. If you believe the report is inaccurate or unfair, you should speak to your chapter leader, who can help you formulate a written response and advise you of the other available options. Your response must be attached to the original report and placed with the original in your file.
If the observation is rated “unsatisfactory,” you should speak to your chapter leader who can explain the various contractual responses you can pursue. If there are concerns about your professional skills, you can seek assistance from your mentor, your school’s lead teacher or a literacy or math coach (if any of those positions exist), the Peer Intervention Program or the Teacher Center. In any case, if the observation report is not used in any disciplinary proceeding for three years, you have the right to remove it permanently from your file.
As to “pop-ins,” principals have always had the right to make unannounced visits to your classroom, to ask to see your lesson plan and to write up what they observe. If you receive a negative or unsatisfactory rating on an informal observation, you are entitled to a post-observation conference to discuss the deficiencies in the lesson. If you request such a conference in writing and do not receive it, you should talk to your chapter leader who can assist you in filing a grievance. If you think you are being singled out and observed more than other staff, you should keep a log of the visits and consult your chapter leader.
Classroom observations are inherently stressful for many teachers at all stages of their careers, but especially for probationary teachers. Remember that the purpose of a classroom observation is not punitive.
Optimism is a self-fulfilling prophecy when it is combined with solid preparation and good organization. Be natural with your students and act as you always do. Work toward developing a trusting and supportive relationship with your students. This will create an atmosphere conducive to impressive teaching and learning.