I made a kid cry in an Ofsted-observed lesson once. Got an ‘Outstanding’ for it too.
They need to put that stuff in the handbook. ‘Progress can be identified by collecting a number of tears from a student and analysing them for their purity’. Inspirational posters would come down to be replaced by pictures of sick puppies, the first ten minutes of UP would be on a loop in every assembly and SMT would spot check emotional fragility in every classroom.
This was one of my first experiences of lesson observation and to be fair, on the grand scale of outright weirdness that seems to have coloured every observation I have ever had (both internal and external) that one’s up there. We’ll call it 85% on the Kafka/Lynch Batpoop Crazy-O-Meter.
Apparently the student ‘exhibited an outstanding emotional response to the text’. Well, he certainly was emotional, that’s for sure. I found out later that the lad had just been involved in a scuffle with his best mate because of some daft, imagined slight. Those emotions had travelled from the corridor to the class where the boy (bless him, he was one of the good ones) clocked the inspector and decided to keep it under his hat until said interloper had done one. Then I, oblivious to the drama that had gone on beforehand, stuck on a scene from Of Mice and Men. Floodgates were opened, inspectors were impressed and I was left aghast on a variety of levels.
I was once downgraded from an ‘Outstanding’ to a ‘Good’ because I used a red pen to mark a piece of work. I was on the borderline and that’s what tipped things against me, apparently. When the observer told me this I thought they were joking. So I laughed. When I realised they weren’t joking I looked for the cameras. When I realised that there would be absolutely no audience for a hidden camera show in an educational setting I asked what difference different colours made.
‘It’s intimidating for children,’ said the observer. ‘It may trigger unpleasant associations.’
‘And which colour may not trigger unpleasant associations?’ I asked.
‘Oh, I don’t know, perhaps a nice blue?’
‘How about after I’ve marked in blue for a while?’
‘What do you mean?
‘Well, eventually the student will come to associate nice blue with unpleasantness if I mark their work for long enough in it.’
‘Oh…then you should change colour.’
‘Something else? Green? Yellow? It really doesn’t matter.’
I had to stop the conversation there and excuse myself as I had started to seriously consider an experiment where I stuck pens into the observer and asked them which colour they felt better about.
I don’t know if it’s me or what. Maybe I’ve got a really specific superpower where if I am approached by someone with a clipboard in their hand then that person, myself and anyone in an area roughly the size of a classroom are immediately transported to parallel universe where the normal rules of existence cease to be and things get a little…woolly. I bloody hope so.
When the most useful feedback I’ve ever received in an observation is that you should always remind yourself and your students to date everything as it’s easier to evidence progress (I’m horribly forgetful with that, it’s a real blind-spot for me and to their credit it was identified and I got it sorted) something may be amiss.
Because in the main observations have primarily helped me to develop a toleration for the absurd. And that’s about it.
I’ve done my best to play the game (be under no illusions, it is very much a game) and I usually make it out unscathed, sometimes I even go 1-0 up but that’s mostly down to me knowing what formation will be most effective against my opponent , and not on account of any individual flair or skill. I have an idea of what people want to see, and I show them. It’s simple. It’d be simpler without the weirdness but underneath it all that’s basically it.
Even without the wanton absurdity ( other highlights include an inspector questioning a student who refused to come down from the top of an art cupboard and another where the kids took it upon themselves to attempt to intimidate an observer into giving me a higher grade – which kind of worked) it’s still a strange, artificial, arbitrary process.
I can handle weird – I work with teenage boys and girls so weird is my bread and butter (perhaps with a smattering of angst flavoured jam) but what is more difficult to stomach is the seemingly random judgements made by people with no guarantee of any understanding of what you’re doing that could mean the difference between the success or failure of a school.
That’s just a bit too crazy for my tastes.