Published 14th October 2016

Observations are a double-edged sword in the TEFL classroom. Utilised well, they can provide inspiration and guidance; utilised badly they are instruments of anxiety and power-play. Let’s take a look at what we mean.

Classroom observations can take a few different forms.

Formal observations are usually done by the Director of Studies. These observations should always be done for new teachers, but can also be done regularly for all teachers. The teacher is told when they will be observed and are expected to produce a formal lesson plan beforehand. Afterwards the DoS will provide feedback on the lesson.

Drop-in observations are usually done by senior teachers or the DoS. Teachers are not given warning about these observations. They can happen at any time on any day and usually do not comprise the entire lesson, but rather just a few minutes, a snapshot. Feedback can be given but sometimes these are done just to make sure the teacher is on track or as a result of some issue within the classroom.

New teacher observations are when new teachers or teachers-in-training observe more experienced teachers. This is not to provide feedback to the teacher teaching, but rather to provide a demonstration to the trainee teacher. Feedback is not given though there should be a discussion between the two teachers on what took place in the classroom.

On the surface, observations make sense. Unfortunately, if there is no room for feedback for trainee or new teachers, then there is little point to being observed. In fact, formal observations are known to be a cause of serious stress for teachers and quite ineffective because they end up teaching a lesson specially prepared for the observation, a lesson they wouldn’t usually teach.

Understandably, teachers need to be observed on a regular basis in order to make sure standards of teaching are being maintained, but it seems better for this to be done on an impromptu, more informal basis.

On the other hand, if you are the teacher being observed, don’t try magic tricks for the benefit of your observer. You should conduct a very normal lesson so that the observation and the feedback is meaningful.

Finally, it should be common practice that teachers observe one another. This is not necessarily to evaluate the teacher but rather for the observer to pick up tips or ideas from a colleague. TEFL environments should be collaborative and teachers should be able to learn from each other in order to support their own development.

Ultimately, observations are necessary in the TEFL classroom but they must be utilised effectively and appropriately.