Of Observing and being Observed …….

Forgive me Lord for I have sinned”....

This is a confession post. I’m a coward. I really  am. For this post is a rant AND  a reflection about someone I observed but didn’t have the guts to give feedback to (because it’s someone of a senior position and not to risk losing my job). My only hope is that the person mentioned reads this and takes it all in the stride of teaching life. I’d like to reassert that my intentions here are NOT to criticize, but to sincerely give feedback and in fact, suggestions on how improvement can take place. On a personal note, though, I quite like this person; jovial, helpful and kind towards me. It’s the TEACHING that took me by surprise.

Let’s name the person as The Observee. And the situation goes like this. I was requested to observe a senior teacher who’s “highly expertised, having vast experience in the industry and published teaching material to gauge whether you’re comfortable teaching this class”. Naturally, my expectations were high. Can I be blamed then?

So I entered the class equipped with a notebook and a paper. I think THAT came as a shock to the observee (perhaps I wasn’t expected to bring it notebooks?). I took my place at the corner fo the classroom. Let me paint a background potrait of the classroom:

Number of learners :

16 (class duration 2 hours)

Learners age             :

19-26 years old

Country of origin     :

South Korea (and I couldn’t help smiling to myself)

Classroom arrangement             :

Traditional style


And below are a list of what I observed, and a short elaboration of my thoughts:

Objectives were clearly stated

It’s always important to write down the objectives on either side of the whiteboard. It gives the teacher and the learner a sense of focus and direction, and helps keep teachers “on track”. I was glad that she wrote it down on t whiteboard, right at the beginning of the class.

Used color-coding techniques

 She used different colors to highlight differences that learners needed to notice. I am a strong believer of using different coloured marker pens to highlight similiarities or differences in a language point. Colors lend a visual component to learners, suiting different learning styles.

Good rapport between teacher and learners

We’ve got to agree that no matter how skilled a teacher is in teaching, building a good rapport with learners play an important role in the teaching and learning environment. Rapport is based on trust and possible similarities (or even indifferences) between teachers and learners interests. When a learner trusts the teacher, there’s usually less opposition from them when requested to complete a task. There are many ways a teacher can help build rapport with his/her learners : – teachers exuding a positive, passionate and emphatetic nature; body language; sense of humor among others. Good rapport builds a strong bond, and a strong bond greatly aids in classroom management. I believe the observee has built a pretty good rapport with her learners.


Having said the above, now we come to the part that’s difficult to digest, at least for me. I’m going to start treading on dangerous grounds here, but am going to do my best to be as diplomatic as possible.

Booming voice projection and EXTREMELY high Teacher Talking Time (TTT) (nearly 90%)

Having lived in South Korea for a bit, I’ve inferred that Koreans, generally dislike booming voices, people talking loudly, sudden loud guffaws in a quiet environment (I’m stating from my observation). I nearly jumped out of skin when her voice boomed from time to time, something that the observee really needs to look into. When teachers project their voices loudly, it engenders a sense of authority and enforces the teacher-student hierarchy. This can sometimes be a barrier in reaching out to learners. There are two possible results from this; learners’ affective filters might be raised so high up that they cringe into their protective shells OR the learner might storm out of the classroom. And both affects learning negatively and disrupts the class.

Also, the learners were hardly given a chance to speak at all. Most of the time, the entire classtime seemed like a “lecture” more than an “English teaching” class. It was made even worse with the observee authoritatively kept reminding learners – “don’t speak Korean”. Well, to be fair to the learners, they weren’t given a chance to speak in English at all! I strongly suggest that the observee takes a second look at her lesson plan, and make changes to her design to infuse activities that encourage learners to communicate  (pairwork, group work, in threes) and express their ideas to one another.  These kind of little tasks are the ones that help to consistently build learners confidence in using the language.

Unacceptable Grammar Mistakes in Spoken language

Or rather, speaking Manglish (Malaysian English) in the classroom. To be honest, I’m quite proud of Malaysian English. It helps me feel a sense of connectedness with fellow Malaysians; it makes us laugh together and understand each other even better. But I believe as teachers, we have different roles to play in different places. Although I regrettably say this, Manglish is perfectly fine during non-ELT related social gatherings. However, it is of crucial importance for the teacher to speak fluently, clearly and as accurately as much as possible in the context of the ELT world (classroom, conferences, workshops, online disucssions).

The thing is, we all make mistakes. Sometimes even as a teacher, in some situations  I do get nervous and accidentally utter structures that are grammatically incorrect. But I almost immediately notice it and apologize to my learners, and these occasions of uttering grammatically wrong sentences, are very very rare. As a teacher, I have trained myself to unconciously watch every word that I say in the classroom. It doesn’t mean that I speak slowly; it just means that I’m mindful in my utterances.

Well, the mistakes she made were one too many to be considered as unintentional tongue slips. And these are her exact words:

“I’m stand like this…”

“She laughed heartedly..”

“This important for your spelling…”

“Please look what I’m doing…”

“It is not the heart very big sized…”

I was quite apalled at hearing her speak in this manner. I confess that I wanted to save my job and not sound “over the board” by pointing out her mistakes and voicing out my observations of the class.  I looked helplessly as she taught them “laugh heartedly” is correct; I couldn’t help wondering if she had noticed the disinterested and blank looks on the learners’ faces.

Never mind that.

This post is a way of me repenting for not speaking up to the observee. But I hope she reads this and thinks about what I’ve said. I’m learning. You’re learning. We’re all learning. To err is human but to err, realize, repent and grow is divine…

So here I stand, in front of you, sincerely apologizing for not doing what I should’ve done as the observer…

Forgive me Lord for I have sinned”....


(courtesy of http://www.themashupradio.com


6 thoughts on “Of Observing and being Observed …….

  1. Dear Heidi,You’ve brought forth some very crucial insights pertaining the art of classroom observation. I totally agree that feedback on classroom observation should be conducted in a diplomatic and non-confrontational manner. As you mentioned above, even the tone of the trainers’ voice needs to be set in such a way as to not sound accusatory in any way. Reflecting back on occasions that I’ve been observed, I vividly remember my trainers always questioning me in a way that I need to reflect back on my teaching in the classroom.However, I think we humans tend to get defensive when we feel threatened or our positions jeopardized in some way. It’s a matter of survival, isn’t it? I’ve been in situations where teachers got rigid and defensive despite knowing that the purpose of the observation was actually to get constructive feedback about their teaching. Yes, I look at any sort of feedback as being constructive rather than critical. This notion I hold has helped me a great deal in continuously developing and honing my teaching skills.Thank you very much for reading and leaving your voice here, and most of all, for connecting with me.Ratna

  2. Dear Barry,Interesting that you highlighted your previous school’s instructional rubrics, I wonder if I’d have been able to work within such constraints! And speaking of instructional rubrics, I did a bit of research and found out that no such expectations were put forth by my current school.Now, reflecting back on my observation above, I’d say that the negative aspects of the teacher has probably been fossilized from many years of feedback-less teaching and the teaching beliefs she holds! Also, due to her seniority at the school, and perhaps even the hint of authoritarianism that ensued, I’m guessing that most teachers there have been in the exact position as myself. They’d have noticed the obvious, but chose to remain silent. Who’d want to rock the Noah’s Ark? :)Having said that, it really delights me that you enjoyed reading my post. It’s really uplifting to hear positivism from like-minded compatriots as yourself, Barry. I look forward to staying connected for a long time to come!Ratna

  3. Thanks for sharing your experience. In this situation, I think your silence can be justified. It’s much more difficult to give negative feedback to coworkers than to students. In the case of a student-teacher relationship, it is understood that the teacher will correct the student, whereas in the coworker relationship, there is an assumed balance of power and expertise that is upset if one offers criticism or advice to another. It sounds like in your situation, the stated purpose of the observation was not for the observed teacher to receive feedback but for the observer to find out how the class is run. Uninvited critical feedback, even though it might be benefical, would go outside the stated purpose of the observation and risk souring the relationship. I have made suggestions to other teachers following observations, but I did it when the observations were part of a professional development program for both observer and observee, and the observed teacher agreed at the outset to recieve feedback on the lesson. Even when the other teacher expects to recieve constructive feedback, I try to check my tone so that I present my ideas more as those of a fellow explorer rather than a judge. I think suggestions are more likely to be adopted if they are presented less confrontationally, and especially, if they come as a result of the teacher’s own self-reflection.If I were to talk to a fellow teacher about teacher talk time, I might try to initiate a 2 way conversation in which we both talk about how much teacher talk time and student talk time we would like to see in our classes. I can’t think of a graceful way of pointing out language errors of a colleague, and I would aviod it unless specifically invited to do so.

  4. Dear Mariana,Firstly thanks so much for taking the time to read my post here. To answer your question, it was neither peer observation or an observation conducted as a teacher trainer (in which I’d never hesitate to share my feedback).On the contrary, it was an observation where a new teacher (myself) observing a senior teacher (observee) and "learning and getting accustomed" to teaching a particular level.Thank you so much for appreciating my observation notes. To be fair, I think I need to thank my old school where we were involved in teacher development programmes and were requested to be involved in peer observation on a monthly basis. That has helped me develop my observational skills in the classroom.You’re right; Korean education is more teacher-oriented. However, I do believe that when I get a group of Korean learners, I need to consistently infuse small tasks that help learners shift towards the learner-oriented context.Thanks for assuring me in such a consoling way that I’m not a coward, dearest Mariana. More than often, I’m caught in this situation of "moral dilemma" on how I need to address situations where teachers give wrong information to learners, and don’t realize it. It’s their dignity and on the other hand, I feel sorry for the learners themselves. I constantly battle within myself on what needs to be done.Hope to hear from you soon, Mariana.Warm wishes,Ratna

  5. Really enjoyed the post. To play devil’s advocate for a moment, do you think the negative aspects of her teaching were all down to her or do you think it could be the school instructions/expectations? For example, at my previous school, I was told to stand at the top of the class (never sit), make it teacher led and talk a lot (increasing TTT significantly). This may have gone against my own beliefs, but I did it, as they were the ones paying my salary at the time. I was also told to consistently remind students and enforce the rule about not speaking Korean , which may be why the teacher you observed is doing it. I also had quite a booming voice because my school liked and wanted it that way.I’m glad you write this as I always love teachers who put thought into their profession and take time to reflect, as you do. I just wonder if some of her actions may be down to her role and doing the job as the school require rather than her personal beliefs, Looking forward to reading many more great posts in the future 🙂

  6. Dear Ratnavathy,I have read your post with mixed feelings.On the one hand , I could not understand the purpose of your observation .Was it a peer observation or an observation conducted as a teacher trainer?On the other hand, I really admire the way you have structured your observation notes- you pointed out the positive stages of the lesson and tried to stay objective.I`m not familiar with the learning styles of Korean students, but I think it is in their culture- more teacher – centred education , the " Teacher knows better"’ approach!On a personal note, you are not a coward, you are just an intelligent and sensitive personality who respects the dignity of a colleague!I am looking forward to hearing from you!Best regards,Mariana

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