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Tales from new teachers

Looking but not seeing

Looking but not seeing

The problem

I am training to be a teacher in a difficult secondary school. It has been a hugely rewarding year but also a real challenge.

One issue has been observations. In my first term, many teachers refused to let me in to their lessons despite my mentor making plans for me to watch them. When I did get to see a class, I felt I wasn't really getting a lot out of it as it was difficult to work out exactly what I should be observing: behaviour, subject knowledge, pedagogy or all the above.

The options

My sister, who is also a teacher, suggested that I meet the person I was observing before the lesson to make us both feel more comfortable. This seemed like a good idea but sometimes my mentor would switch the lesson I was due to watch at the last minute.

A teacher friend suggested that I approach members of my own department (maths) and find a teacher who was happy to let me sit in.

Finally, I asked my university tutor exactly what I needed to be observing. She said that this was an interesting question and she would get back to me. I received an email the next day telling me to identify areas where I felt I was weakest and to provide my mentor with the list. She should then find teachers who excelled in those areas for me to observe.

The result

My mentor seemed grateful for the tutor's guidance and she quickly formulated a timetable for observations - a PE teacher with good behaviour management, a religious education teacher with a knack for helping struggling students and a fantastic maths teacher with innovative ideas for activities. With a proper focus, these observations went really well and I learned a lot.

The idea of meeting the teacher before the lesson also proved to be effective. I found that many of the teachers were nervous about why I was observing them. Once I explained that I was there to learn about an area they really excelled in, they relaxed and the whole process was easier.

I have had one success in setting up an observation myself, too. I noticed that one of the science teachers had conducted several classes outside and I wanted to learn how and when outdoor learning should take place. He was more than happy to have me tag along and he also took the time to chat with me afterwards.

It has been a really fantastic transformation. I feel observations are now not a waste of time but a key part of my training.

The writer is training to be a teacher in the North East of England

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