I had a little group of pre-service teachers at school today observing in a range of classrooms with teachers who are relatively fresh to teaching and others who have been in the ‘game’ for quite some time. When I introduced my PSTs to some of the teachers, one teacher made a comment which almost was an apology about the types of things the PSTs might see in the classroom. One of the pre-service teachers commented, ‘This happened at my observation school last week too, teachers kept saying either you won’t see much today or we’re just in the middle of a task –sorry or this might not be very exciting”. I’m thinking about his comment and what it reveals about teachers, our work and the ways in which others perceive us. These are some initial thoughts, not particularly well formed, but I’m trying to capture them while they are fresh in my mind.
I’m wondering if this pre-emptive apology about what PSTs might see is an indication of the pressure teachers feel to perform? Hargreaves (1994) described the ‘persona of perfectionism’ (p. 149) which creates an environment in which teachers find it difficult to share their doubts for fear it will be perceived as ‘bad practice’ (p. 150), and Shapiro (2010) contends that teachers try and present the façade of the model teacher, someone she describes as ‘a pedagogical whiz who appears pleasant and calm in all situations and is imminently able to exceed the expectations put upon her by state, school, parents and students’ (Shapiro, 2010, p. 618). I wonder whether this pressure to be the pedagogical whiz is one which some teachers feel when PSTs or other teachers are in their rooms?
Last year when collecting feedback from PSTs about some of their classroom observations, some of the students made extremely critical comments about the quality of some of the teaching they had observed in their initial observation days. Not having been involved in their observations, or in the unpacking of these, I wonder if they had expectations that fed the cult of perfectionism among teachers? We all have our bad days, the lessons that don’t work as planned, the times we struggle to find the means to get students to the next stage of their journeys. I know that on some days if people were to walk into my classroom they would not see the pedagogical whiz, some days they will see me battling with ways to link concepts together in a manner that assists all students in learning. Some days they will see me tired, frustrated, and trying to respond effectively to a range of unexpected events. Other days they will see me in what Csikszentmihalyi would describe as ‘flow’, days when everything clicks, when the kids are caught up in their learning and when the classroom dynamic all moves together like clockwork.
I think it also highlights a problem with the way teachers have been subject to observations in the past – with a critical focus on the teacher alone, rather than on the students and their learning. This should be a central part of our focus when we are in classrooms – how are students progressing with their learning? What is aiding them? What might assist them further?
So today I’m thinking about the ways we can build school cultures and spaces where teachers can take professional risks, where they can break down the personas of perfectionism and talk freely about the good days and the bad. Perhaps the pedagogical whiz is one who is able to acknowledge both the crunchy and the smooth, and who takes both as opportunities for learning?