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Trainee Teachers - Is it helpful to watch a more experienced colleague teach?

(33 Posts)
deleted203 Thu 14-Feb-13 20:27:20

In light of a thread about teachers struggling and a couple of incidents at work I wondered if any trainees/NQTs actually found it helpful to observe someone else? I've frequently had people watching me, and I'm not sure how useful it is, TBH, as I suspect that I'm not much help with behaviour management (which is generally what they are having difficulty with). I've taught for a lot of years, and the problem is that if you are struggling with bottom set Y9 who are throwing pens around, calling out, chatting, refusing to stay in their seats then it's not much help to come watch me (where they will file in quietly and sit and work like angels).

We've got a couple of GTP students at the moment on placement who are really struggling with a couple of classes (y9 and y10) and both of them have come and watched me teach these same groups. Whilst I'm happy for them to do so I do wonder whether I am being any help at all - or if it's making things worse for them by seeing that these classes aren't any trouble at all for me. I suspect it's frustrating to sit and think 'Why doesn't she have to deal with the kind of behaviour that I do?' without being able to see what it is I'm doing to prevent it. Unless you watched me teach the class for the first time ever, you probably can't see how I've set out the expectations, stamped on anyone who raised their head immediately and made it totally clear that poor behaviour won't ever be tolerated and the consequences will not be worth dealing with. By this point in the year classes are well aware of my expectations and equally well aware that it would be a really, really bad idea to even think about kicking off.

I know my reputation with pupils is something along the lines of, 'Mrs So's a really good laugh - but you don't ever want to play her up, or she's really scary'. I've taught for over 20 years and am more than willing to offer constructive/helpful advice if I can - just wondering if these student teachers are going home feeling worse that they are struggling to cope when someone else isn't?

IHeartKingThistle Thu 14-Feb-13 20:37:35

I'll never forget the story of the science trainee who watched an experienced teacher start a practical with the words 'all right you lot, you know what to do' at which point the class got into their groups, got their equipment out and got on with it. The student teacher started hisppractical with the same words. Chaos.

It's a bit like that, isn't it? The stuff you were talking about like establishing expectations, stomping on them etc. is something I was never ever given training on and would have really appreciated. Maybe show them a lesson and then talk them through how you get to that point?

deleted203 Thu 14-Feb-13 21:07:03

Thanks Thistle. I'll try that, possibly. The difficulty is that I'm not totally sure how you do get to that point, I suppose. Most of the stuff I do is automatic with me now, and I'm not consciously thinking about how I do it. Simply that you gain a sixth sense over many years and are constantly scanning the class so that when someone raises their head and glances over at a friend/enemy part of my 'lizard' brain thinks, 'Oh no you don't, son' and I'll be immediately fixing them with my beady eye and saying, 'Doing well, Dan. Keep going...' or something similar so that pupil thinks, 'Shit, she's watching me' and subsides.

I suppose I'm really asking because we had a trainee in tears in the staffroom this afternoon after a shocking lesson and SMT have said, 'Go watch So tomorrow with that class'. I'm crossing my fingers that the trainee won't go home tomorrow for half term feeling even worse about their teaching. I do try and offer practical suggestions such as seating plans, laying down clear expectations, demanding silence and never letting anyone talk over you, etc but it's difficult to get across the fact that some teaching skills can take years to really get a handle on. (Don't want to depress them any further!)

Littlefish Thu 14-Feb-13 21:23:29

I agree with IHeart - it's not so much the observation in isolation, as much as the opportunity to discuss it afterwards.

I'm an experienced teacher and I still find it incredibly helpful/interesting to watch other colleages, both inexperienced or experienced and to reflect afterwards with them on a specific aspect of the lesson.

EvilTwins Thu 14-Feb-13 21:30:21

I think it's helpful if you can then explain WHY they behave like that for you. I am quite sure you didn't intend it, but your first post comes across as rather smug.

I have a PGCE student with me at the moment, and she's not having any issues with her classes. I like to think (because I am also smug) that it's al least partly because she is teaching MY classes (v small dept- only me really) and I have them where I want them so she has been able to take over without any chaos. Obviously it's also because she's very good and has high expectations. If your GTPs are having problems, then yes, I think it's worthwhile them seeing you with the same kids, and as long as you are able to explain why they respond to you as they do- even if it's a case of having known them for a couple of years, then it's useful. I don't think there's much point in pretending that history makes no difference - IME, it's a massive factor.

deleted203 Thu 14-Feb-13 22:00:30

Sorry, Evil, I certainly didn't intend to come across as smug. I'm just finding it difficult to articulate (in a helpful fashion) why my classes will behave. As you say, a lot of it, is historical. I've taught for a lot of years anyway, and the last 5, probably, in this particular school. So even this year's Y11 remember me teaching them when they were anxious 11 year olds. I haven't taught the Y9 class that are particularly difficult before this year - but they probably arrived at my class in Sept slightly cautiously anyway, because I suspect teachers' reputations go before them.

I would also agree with you that your PGCE student has benefited enormously from your classes being aware of your expectations. I suspect part of the problem for the student who is struggling is that she is teaching a subject where the previous teacher (currently on long term leave with stress) has also struggled and where there has been a lot of different supply cover. I do think that it's possible for pupils to get the idea into their heads that 'we always piss about in x subject' if they have spent most of the year doing so.

I'd be interested in watching other colleagues teach (I'm happy to pinch ideas!) LittleFish. I haven't done so for quite a few years as there never seems to be time/cover for us to do so now. It was something that we did at one time that seems to have gone by the by now, or perhaps that's simply the school I'm in at present.

notnowImreading Fri 15-Feb-13 06:52:44

I think observations of experienced colleagues can be incredibly useful, just for the sake of seeing what high expectations look like in practice. Some NQTs and PGCE students don't have a very clear idea of what behaviour they want to see - many see the ideal as 'quiet' but don't really know what purposeful group work, for example, looks like. It's good for them to see what is achievable and desirable. I agree it can be disheartening if they have the 'trouble with X3? But they're always fine for me...' conversation.

I always ask NQTs to do two behaviour obs close together, the first where they just watch what the pupils are doing and make notes on their learning behaviour, then they watch the teacher to see what routines are in place. It's helpful for them to look at the empty classroom beforehand too, to see how the experienced colleague has arranged things so that pupils respect the equipment and starts of lessons run smoothly. Most of the NQTs I mentor say that it's only helpful if they can watch the same person more than once with the same pupils because then they are able to watch for more subtle clues and behaviours the second time around.

flubba Fri 15-Feb-13 07:00:00

I'm now an experienced teacher and have few behavioural problems, and I know that when I'm observed by colleagues who are struggling with a class, there is an element of 'ohh, so they CAN behave well' reaction. However, I clearly (and very painfully! grin) remember on my first teaching practice being told by my mentor that my lesson was 'disastrous' blush and I should 'just come and see her' teach! I was a) mortified that my lesson was described as 'disastrous' and I was b) infuriated that 'watching' her was going to solve all my problems.

With the context explained, I think it can be helpful - but it's got to be done tactfully.

FourArms Fri 15-Feb-13 09:05:48

I do find it helpful to know that they can behave as Flubba says. However, I haven't been able to learn much from a colleague who teaches the same group as she did the work with them years previously so it's that I need to see really.

BelindaCarlisle Fri 15-Feb-13 09:15:07

i find with students these days, so many just lack personality.
sadly SO many through the OU or gtp lack a good all round education too. Cant spell, and have no grasp of linking subjects to theirs

slug Fri 15-Feb-13 09:54:30

Before I was a teacher I was a learning support assistant, working with disabled students in class. Everything I ever learned about teaching I learnt from being in classes and observing experienced teachers at work.

This applied not only to good practise, but also to bad. It was really worthwhile watching things go wrong. I learnt more I think from watching classes go pear shaped and seeing how they can be recovered, or not, than anything in the PGCE. I learnt what not to do. I learnt that sometimes you have to abandon your plan and try something completely different and the value of always having a back up plan. I also learnt that what might, on the face of it, look like a riotous classroom may actually be a rich and involved learning experience.

I'm a big fan of classroom observations, but I also understand it can be quite stressful for the teacher being observed. there's the lelment of judgement going on. If you do have a student observing you it can be really useful to get them involved in the teaching of the class to get a feel for how it works as well as distracting the students from an obvious spare person in the classroom.

ninah Fri 15-Feb-13 18:06:04

I did the GTP (and no I am not poorly educated, thanks to the poster who made that generalisation - though I have come across teachers with poor grammar spelling and subject knowledge, so I know they exist)
I learned so much from watching my very capable mentor. Coming from a TA role I found that taking charge of the class was quite a big step; I soon realised that her very high expectations of behaviour were what created a great learning climate, and she gave me lots of tips eg using parallel praise. She also observed me and gave detailed feedback, so I could see that what she was doing in her lesson that worked, and what I was missing in mine, looked like in practice. OP you sound v thoughtful, I'd pull your observee aside and make some practical suggestions. It is up to him/her to listen and act on them! Crying in the staffroom is a bit pants imo, though. Teaching isn't for everyone and you have to do it to find out, sometimes.

ninah Fri 15-Feb-13 18:07:56

oberver, I meant, sorry
and don't worry about the trainees feeling daunted, I think that's very natural

Parallel praise? Do you mean, if Darren is wriggling about and chatting, praising Kylie next to him for sitting beautifully?

RugBugs Fri 15-Feb-13 22:17:34

I've just asked DP who is on his PGCE and he only finds observations useful if there's also discussion with the teacher around it. He said he found observing teachers dealing with chair swinging etc quickly really helpful.
I think his first placement was a bit shit though, a nationally well regarded outstanding high school but his mentor really couldn't give a toss, gave him their worst sets and never completed his reviews.

deleted203 Fri 15-Feb-13 23:32:49

Thanks, folks. Interesting to hear different observations. Trainee came and watched today and I went through things with her at lunchtime. Found it slightly frustrating, to be honest. I asked her if she had any observations about the lesson; was there anything she'd focused on in particular, etc and got very little feedback. I talked her through how the classroom was set up - the fact that pupils know where their books are and that there is a task already set up for them to do, so that they can come in and immediately get down to it. Discussed why I find this works with this particular class, rather than lining them up in corridor in silence before they are let in (period before they are in different groups/subjects and arrive in dribs and drabs, so it is better for me to let them come straight in and get down to stuff rather than hanging around waiting for whole class to arrive). Talked through setting behaviour expectations, nipping trouble in the bud before it escalates, etc. Won't bore you with the whole lot, but I found it tiring because she shrugged a lot, didn't appear to be listening and complained several times, 'Yes, but you don't have to deal with the behaviour that I do!'.

Tried giving some 'old' teacher tricks - such as she might find it better not to say, 'Please would you do X?' as it gives the pupil the opportunity to think/say, 'No'. Suggested she try saying, ' need to do X now. Thank you', as that gives the impression that you are taking his acceptance for granted, rather than asking him if he will do it. She just shrugged and said, 'But they don't listen to me'. Difficult to know what other practical advice I can offer. I have asked if she would like me to come and observe her teach after half term and see if I can offer some feedback and suggestions but she didn't seem very keen. She actually said, 'Well I don't see how it would help because you don't teach my subject!' I managed to grit my teeth and patiently said, 'It's my second subject and I've taught it quite a lot in the past'. She then said, 'Well, if you want, I suppose'. confused.

No, dear...I'm not desperate to, TBH. It means giving up one of my three free periods a week and I'm offering to do you a favour, here! Anyway, I will make the offer again after half term and we'll see! Very willing to offer any help I can - just a bit disgruntled that it feels like a bit of a waste of time.

Oh dear, that all sounds very frustrating hmm I can see why you're not desperate to observe her!

Personally, I think that a day of pupil shadowing is more helpful than seeing one off classes. If trainees follow a class/pupil they can see how the individuals react in different settings and observe a range of techniques for dealing with them.

Having said that, I did pupil shadowing as a PGCE student and didn't really understand why I was doing it. I found it interesting more than useful iyswim. Being sent off with a specific focus ('list the exact wording of any instruction that any teacher gives Little Johnny' or 'note down what the teacher has prepared before the lesson starts') would probably be more useful.

deleted203 Sat 16-Feb-13 00:26:03

Pupil shadowing sounds interesting, actually. Might suggest it to SMT for her. It will possibly help if she can observe this group in their different lessons. If I'm honest I don't feel inclined to do much more. She's not my GTP student and I've offered what help I can. I'll suggest it to her mentor, however.

Magdalenebaby Sat 16-Feb-13 00:35:26

She sounds awful. I wouldn't be bending over backwards to help her tbh. I did my PGCE last year and really appreciated the chance to watch any and every teacher who was prepared to have me in their class - there is always something you can learn. I'm doing daily supply atm (though I've got an NQT job lined up for September) and the behaviour management is hell - they know you are just cover and very often suitable cover work hasn't been left leaving you scratching around to keep them busy and stop them killing each other in a subject you are not actually trained to teach - bottom set Y11 physics yesterday was a bit of a low point! Any behaviour management tips I get I am thoroughly grateful for!

notnowImreading Sat 16-Feb-13 10:49:08

Blimey, sowornout, she sounds absolutely miserable and defeated. She might be more receptive once she's had a half term break, maybe? It sounds as though you have done all you can for her at the moment; no need to push it.

One of my senior managers has a useful phrase for these situations...

'You can't polish a turd'

AuntFini Sat 16-Feb-13 11:00:14

I'm a trainee at the moment and I find it hugely helpful to observe. I'm still at the stage where I copy good practice that I see, I don't know how to do things myself just yet, so in some occassions I copy what the teachers do.
With regards to behaviour management, I think it's something a lot of students struggle with although luckily I've not had it too bad. I know my lessons aren't going to be as good as an experienced teacher's so I don't get down if things don't go to plan. I talk it through with the class teacher and take on their advice. I also read that getting the buggers to behave book which I actually found really useful. So many things come naturally to experienced teachers that we trainees have to learn how to do. It's like driving a car.

newbiefrugalgal Sat 16-Feb-13 11:03:48

She sounds like a surly teenager herself!
Think you have been more that giving and maybe over half term she might wake up and realise how helpful you have been.
Don't offer anymore, unless she approaches you.
Wait for the next gtp who might actually appreciate it!

deleted203 Sat 16-Feb-13 11:34:34

Thanks, all. I agree with you newbie that I'm not offering any more of my time, unasked. I made the offer and if she wants to approach me after half term and say, 'Actually, I would quite like you to watch me,' then fine. If not, I'll not lose any sleep over it!

MagratGarlik Sat 16-Feb-13 18:36:00

She sounds very stressed to the point of giving up on training. That defeatist attitude is something I've seen before from people who have mentally given up, the thought of, "no-one can help anyway, so what's the point"?

Has anyone just had a sit down with her and, "is everything OK" type chat? If she feels she's doing a really bad job and everyone else is doing great, a bit of reassurance that behavior problems at the start are normal might go a long way? I think sometimes universities (and Ofsted) set up this myth that if your teaching is good, you won't have any behavior problems, but I think many classes will test new teachers and this can be perceived as "oh shit, I'm terrible at this".

flubba Sun 17-Feb-13 06:40:13

Oh dear, poor thing. I agree with Magrat that she sounds like she's already given up. Make sure you let her mentor know about her defeatist attitude. Hopefully it's because she's in a bit of a slump that she can work on and get out of, rather than the other option which is that she's a 'don't care' kind of a person, which isn't salvageable.

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