My stomach hurt. My digestive tract was failing me. This was not new. I’d felt this way several times before. My lactose intolerance loves to flare up at its worst under periods of extreme pressure. This was in addition to my internalized anxiety that had manifested itself as heart palpitations and whole body trembling. It’s been this way all my life.
The source of my nausea this time was an impending observation at my job. It was hard to believe it, but just that week I had hit the five year mark at my school. Every year on a teacher’s anniversary, a lead teacher observes a class and then gives them an overall performance review. These observations were easily the most agonizing days of my career thus far.
Four years ago, on the eve of my first yearly observation, I hadn’t been able to sleep at all. I had driven myself absolutely crazy writing and reviewing my lesson plan. Creating new material. I scrutinized every detail, every word that I would use in class. I panicked and obsessed beforehand, worrying about time and classroom management. I worried my boss, Percy, would finally realize that I had faked my way into my profession, and I actually had no idea what I was doing at all. I worried he’d see that I had no business being a teacher and fire me. Needless to say, by the time the actual observation rolled around I was exhausted on top of being anxious. It showed.
Three years ago, I was going through a really low point in my life. There’d been a car crash, a break up, a move, several severed friendships and an endless supply of tears. I was remedying it all by binge drinking in the park with an old friend on a regular basis. All of that, plus a yearly observation resulted in me recklessly staying out until 4:00am the night before. I actually had to text Percy and ask him to reschedule because I was in no state to be observed.
Two years ago, I had a ton of experience under my belt. For that observation, I still panicked and obsessed, but my execution of my carefully constructed lesson was brilliant. Percy called it, “textbook.” Not long after that, I won the Teacher of the Year Award at the school. Then I was offered a promotion to a more prestigious department in the school.
Last year, I had been working in said department for about 8 months when the department head, Marsha, observed my class. I thought the class had gone fairly well, to be honest. But I soon discovered that Marsha and I had very different teaching philosophies. She promptly informed me that the kind and supportive atmosphere in my classroom threatened the integrity of her program.
At first I was absolutely shocked. Everything positive that I had been praised for in previous observations I was now being berated for. I was “too nice,” “not tough enough.” In Marsha’s class, she didn’t even let students yawn. I didn’t care at all if students yawned in my class. In fact, I valued the nonthreatening inclusive nature of my classes. I tried to be the kind of teacher I needed to succeed as a student myself. Marsha disagreed. She believes putting more pressure helps students learn better. Eventually, I chalked it up to us being different, and I kept doing what I was doing. I took some of the criticism and used it to improve my classes. I did make my students more accountable for their actions. But I also decided that I didn’t have to be Marsha’s clone and that my own teaching methods were valid too.
So now here I was. Waiting to be observed by Marsha for a second time, my stomach in shambles. The night before I had gone out shopping with my mom. I hadn’t given this observation a second thought. It just wasn’t worth it. Her key issues with my classes were not really about the teaching aspect of all. I wasn’t going to change the way I taught. We just had to agree to disagree. I kept telling myself that but my stomach wasn’t registering it to be true. I wondered how unprofessional it would be to take an emergency bathroom break in the middle of class.
Marsha entered my class and took a seat in the back row. Show time. I reviewed concepts from the previous class’ passive voice grammar lesson. From what my students responded, I launched into a new activity. I taught the whole lesson blind, really. I had taught this class several times before. I had objectives and goals, and I varied my strategies to achieve them based on how my students responded. I didn’t have a meticulously planned out lesson. About 45 minutes into the class, Marsha excused herself. I worried that I had bored her to death.
A few days later, we sat down to discuss the observation. I braced myself for the negative feedback that was sure to come. But it never came. Instead, Marsha seemed elated with my class this time. She told me she was impressed with my confidence and natural attitude. She commented on my level of clarity and control in the classroom. She was pleasantly surprised with what she saw.
Backhanded compliments aside, I felt really good about that observation. I felt vindicated. Accepted. Without losing touch of what made me a good teacher in the first place, I had still gained the approval of my newest boss. I am a good teacher. And now everyone knows.