Monday, 28 November 2016

Considering Criticism: how my poor lesson observation made me a better teacher.

Sometimes we have really bad days, we question if we are doing the right thing and we often think about what else we would do instead. Teacher retention is a massive issue within the UK, so much so that the government are looking at funding options for recruiting and keeping graduates who choose to teach Maths, English or a Science. Teaching as a profession does not get a lot of praise, from parents, other professionals or from government, meaning that there will be a continual problem to recruit and keep some of the UK's top teachers.

Where do we go from here? How do we keep people in the profession and also keep them happy? Within FE English and Maths, teachers have to tackle the massive issue of encouraging students to complete qualifications that have been attempted once before. For a lot of teachers, this could mean that students are disruptive, uneasy or generally unwilling to co-operate with you and your lesson on anything with letters or numbers. How do we tackle what seem like constant problems against what feels like a never ending cycle of negativity?

Keep fighting for success, failure isn't an option (Courtesy of

As a teacher myself, it is so easy to admit that nothing can be done, complain about student behaviour or run yourself down before you head home. I encourage you to think differently in order to preserve your own mental health and keep you loving the job you work so hard in. You are in a tough position and many have tried and failed before you, the thing that you will need to consider is, how do you take personal criticism and constant feeling of failure.

I have my own story, in my first year of teaching, I had a group that did not co-operate. I was frustrated with the group as they didn't want to learn, constant behaviour problems mixed with all the students taking a complete dislike to me. I got observed within this group and ended up doing very poorly, I spoke to my line manager at the time and I was angry and frustrated, I vented to some of the other staff I work with about the issues I had with the group and how it was all the students fault I did so poorly, I blamed everyone but myself. I went home in a huff, thinking of a way out, thinking I was not good enough to do this job. The thought of going back in, everyone will question me, everyone will think I am a fraud. I'm not cut out for this.

That evening I sat down, thought about it all and spoke to my friends. I told them how I was feeling and what I thought I wanted to do, leave. My reason was not because I wasn't qualified enough, but I felt like I was failing the students I was working with and coming up with poor ideas. It took a while but I realised that my perspective was all wrong, this was my worst group, this was not a personal attack but a lifeline for me to get this group back on track. This was a way for me to work with other staff and help my students get through their maths exams. I sent my line manager an email at 8pm that evening stating that I appreciated his feedback and I wanted to work on the things he commented on within the observation, I said I wanted to work on different approaches to the group to help me within the classroom I had. I felt instantly better, I was being positive about my own shortcoming, identifying your weaknesses in yourself makes you more likely to improve on them.

Who knew that would work? Instead of questioning myself and what I was doing wrong, I thought of what I was doing right. My lesson content improved massively and my behaviour within the classroom became more relaxed and encouraging. I realised that this was not a personal attack on my lack of experience or my competency as a teacher, but it was a wake up call, I knew if I was told I was outstanding I wouldn't have been happy with that either. I am a teacher and I have the confidence to know I am also a competent one, I know what I am doing and I know how to interact with my students. We all have areas we can improve on, and I saw this as a new challenge.

The way I responded to this affected how I feel about the future from here on out. I don't consider myself as a bad teacher, I know I work hard to get things done and work in the best interests of my students. I realised that this negative experience within my role shaped how I handled future events like this, I knew that I could have easily given up, but I know I am stronger than this and knew I could change. Ask this of yourself, if you receive some bad news, or a lesson goes horribly wrong, become objective and remove yourself from it. If there was a camera in the room, what do you think you would do differently? How do you think you would behave and what would you like to see in your own video? I thought about my own mental video from that observation, and this inspired me to work on the issues that I perceived myself. I realised the next year that my change was successful when a previous student from that group told me that she felt I was a better teacher and my lessons were much more enjoyable.

I want you to think about perspective today, your perspective shapes everything that happens to you as a teacher, if you perceive the bad group, you will subconsciously treat them differently. If you perceive yourself as a failure, you will more than likely look for opportunities to back up your hypothesis. I ask you to remember that you do this because you do care, you are competent and you are the change that may help some of your students achieve their English and Maths qualifications. You are more than a lesson observation, a pair of hands or a number. Consider this before you jump ship and try something new, think about what you can do differently and always question yourself for opportunities to develop your approach. You are not going to fail if you are always looking for ways to improve. The big lesson I learnt from this experience is to perceive criticism as a way to improve what you are doing, treat constructive criticism as a new lease of life to any problem areas and use this to shape your own development. Tackle problems with solutions, you'll feel better, healthier and earn more respect from other staff and students alike.

- Matt