The Two Observers – 16.10.12

“Life is a comedy for those who think and a tragedy for those who feel” Horace Walpole

Today I spent my time with the youngest in the school: Nursery and Reception. Below is part of a plan that I was to follow for the first part of the morning in the Nursery:

Learning Objective

Uses language to share feelings, thoughts and experiences

Learns to use words and is able to use them in communicating

Uses simple sentences

Success Criteria

I can use some words that I have not heard before

I can make a sentence from words about the weather

I can express my thoughts in words

Activity

(A brief description of some weather-based activities)

Children with English as an Additional Language (EAL): Say some words out on the table

Lower Ability Children (LA): Talk about what happens using some of the words from the table

Higher Ability Children (HA): Draw a picture of a scene with a distinct type of weather for Autumn

The repetition is pointless and time consuming for the teacher who has written this out. The Puritan work ethic assumes that more work is automatically better so more words are better than fewer words. It could, of course, be suggested that the above helps to clearly illustrate, in fine detail, exactly what the expected outcomes are. This is about being presentable to your superiors. This is not what a plan made by a teacher for a teacher looks like. This is the sorry outcome of being under permanent scrutiny. And we should question this outcome-led target-driven approach with the very youngest children.

One of the Nursery teachers appears and says “Honestly, so many teachers are making such a fuss about their observations. They are preparing really over the top lessons that are nothing like their normal sessions. I’m going to teach my normal lesson. It’s ridiculous. It’s so false!” (I’m not making this up!) I take the chance to congratulate her for her common sense. And I tell her that this is exactly how I have always approached all observations. She is a new teacher. It’s likely that the cold eye of performativity will eat into her morale.

After the observation the interesting talk happens between the two observers. The teacher is left out of this crucial discussion when the observers will make their judgement as to whether the session is deemed to have been outstanding (1) good (2) satisfactory (3) or unsatisfactory (4). They will refer to OFSTED’s level descriptors for this. Applying OFSTED-style judgements in-house like this is not recommended by the NUT. The lack of dialogue evident in the fact that the observers privately discuss the session first reveals all that is wrong with this process. And it reveals the primary motive of the observation itself. In a proper setting with values above and beyond ‘performance management’ the next step would be a discussion of the session between all three professionals. And this discussion would be free of judgements. Of course the next step after the secret meeting is for the judgement to be conveyed to the helpless teacher. There is part of the performance management form that allows the teacher to remark on the observation. Teachers rarely do.

Interestingly straight after this there was a revealing moment. One boy wanted to wipe his nose. The two observers told him to use a tissue. He came to me and asked me where he could find a tissue. I stood up to direct him to the toilets. The two observers saw this and concluded that I was going to the toilet to fetch a tissue for him. “No, no” they said to the little lad “Jenny is not going to fetch the tissue for you ha ha ha!” they wrongly observed. I couldn’t be bothered to explain that this was not what was happening. This little incident makes such a wonderful example of the way that the observer comes to define the events in their own subjective way.

I spent part of my morning taking pictures of the children each holding their little ‘yoghurt-pot-and-chickpea’ shakers that they had made yesterday. It’s this kind of time-wasting that UK primary teachers should have protested long and hard about. It never should have come to this. In the past the child made something fun and they took it home. Now they make something fun, the teacher takes a photo of it, prints off the picture and sticks it in the child’s progress book…and then the child takes it home. Are we beginning to see why teachers are exasperated?

Still, my rants provide light relief for some. One Teaching Assistant (TA) who has read my ‘Reflections on the New Public Management Systems’ told me today that whenever she’s feeling low she reads it. And she told me that her mother-in-law had exclaimed ‘Go Jenny’ on reading it!

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