16. Evaluation

It’s always been hard for me to teach when I’m being evaluated. During unsupervised teaching, I try things, take risks. When things don’t work, I make mental notes – even plan my next attempts as I pick up the pieces. When no one is looking over my shoulder, I can more easily focus on the children. As I’m being supervised, no matter how hard I try, I can’t forget that someone is forming an opinion of my teaching, and though I value constructive criticism, I can’t quite be myself.
One drawback to this explanation of supervision phobia (I dignify it with a name because I know I’m in good company) is that besides honestly explaining a problem, it also provides a fairly believable alibi. Teachers who never have it together can say they do, except when they’re being watched. Or should I say,”We do?” Twenty-five years of building confidence, and I still wonder whether I’m as talented and effective a teacher as the people I’d rather listen to think, or as incompetent as the harsher critics claim.
I’ve spoken to many other teachers about this, and most know exactly what I’m talking about. Anyone involved in a profession in which the “product” is a person is susceptible to intense self-doubt. So are potters, woodworkers, etc., but they don’t have to worry that they have ruined a slab of clay or piece of wood for life. They can throw it out and start again. We doctors, lawyers, teachers, politicians, etc. have to rely on unreliable feedback to decide whether we’re good at what we do.
I’ll tell you about a moment of truth a student teacher had. I was videotaping her lesson. At one point, she was explaining something to a child who had come to her for help. I zoomed in on the child’s face, and confusion was evident. Then I zoomed in on the student teacher’s face, and there was a desperate look. If I read her mind correctly, she was thinking, “I am really blowing it, and the camera is creating evidence to be used against me.” Instead of staying focussed on the student teacher’s face, I followed the child as he went back to his seat. Suddenly, there was a look of insight. The sun had come out on his face. “Oh, I get it!” I zoomed back to the student teacher, and she was working with another child. The damage to this teacher’s confidence had already been done, and you could see it on her face. But luckily, I had evidence in her favor. Later, when she saw the videotape, she was delighted. I hope it taught her an important lesson. At any rate, it taught me one. We may be better than our worst fears.
Most of you work with people, and most of you face evaluation. If you’re a parent, you get feedback from children right away, but you can dismiss that if you want. They can’t fire you, and besides, they don’t always know what’s best for them, and who knows? Maybe sometimes you do. If you have a spouse, maybe she/he is another source of feedback. Maybe that feedback is divorce-fodder. If you’re employed, even if you’re superintendent of schools or President of the United States (maybe “especially,” should replace “even”) evaluation is still not fun. Well, I was watching you today, and I think you’re doing a great job.

Comments are closed.