282. Showtime

I’ve seen many good student teachers being observed by their supervisors. And they seldom show their supervisors how good they are. Instead, they try to imagine what their supervisors want to see, and as long as the supervisors are there, they put on the show. When the ordeal is over, and the spotlight is turned off, they turn back into the good teachers they really are.
Some are embarrassed about the way they set limits for children. They actually do it pretty well, but they don’t want their supervisors to see that limit- setting. Student teachers worry that they may be too strict, or not strict enough. So they set more or fewer limits than usual, and children are quick to notice that something is different, and change their own behavior accordingly. The ones who respond well to limit-setting – maybe need it – notice its absence. Or the ones who appreciate the freedom they usually have don’t respond well to rules that aren’t normally there.
Some student teachers, like some teachers, rarely speak to the whole class at once. In my opinion, that’s good teaching; many children have trouble spending a lot of time listening to an adult who is in front of the room. But the usual situation, one in which the student teacher gives some quick instructions and then helps individual children follow them, or watches what goes on, intervening only when appropriate, doesn’t look, to the student teacher, like what he/she thinks the supervisor wants to see. And so there’s a long lecture, filled with attention cues for children who aren’t focussing.
A good supervisor can see through the various facades, and see the skill. But I’ve also seen good supervisors who prevent the whole thing from happening. They let student teachers know what they’d like to see, so there’s no second- guessing. Instead of sitting in the back of the room and writing notes, they behave the way they expect student teachers to behave. They move among the children, helping some, conspicuously appreciating what’s going on. They smile a lot, which makes both student teachers and children feel more comfortable.
When the observation is over, the kind of supervisor I like has lots of positive things to tell the student teacher, many of which the student teacher may not have noticed, or at least didn’t know the supervisor noticed. There are a few suggestions, but they’re given in a context of overall approval. Student teaching, especially while being evaluated by a supervisor, can be a terribly intimidating and unsettling experience. I wonder whether supervisors ever get supervised. I hope so.

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