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What to do After a Bad Observed Lesson

All kinds of random factors can lead to a rubbish observed lesson, says Tom Starkey – it’s what happens next that really matters...

  • What to do After a Bad Observed Lesson

I made a right pig’s ear of my last observed lesson. It was an absolute shocker. It was a teacher’s anxiety dream made real. It was total and complete arse.

I won’t go into too many details as I want to keep working in the educational sector for the foreseeable. But some of the highlights included:

  • Over-packing tasks to the point where the lesson was so dense it had its own gravitational pull, which sucked in poor uncomprehending kids like popcorn up a hoover.
  • Key classroom characters decided that it was their time to put in an audition for ‘Britain’s Next Top Twonk’ and proceeded to do everything they possibly could to scupper my chances of looking even vaguely competent (seemingly having forgotten that I would still be their teacher after the observation and would dedicate every waking moment from that point on to their complete annihilation).
  • My board pen ran out.
  • I only had one board pen.

And so on. I’m stopping now, because even the mere thought of it is making me break out into a cold sweat and I don’t have any vodka in the house.

Now, believe it or not, I usually sail through observations. I’ve been through it so many times I’ve got the rules of the game down pat; I can jump through the right hoops for an hour, ensuring that they leave me be until the next time.


I’m not really sure what happened this time. To be fair, I had just got back from a sabbatical so maybe I was rusty; or it could have been a subconscious desire to self-destruct and get back on a much easier path.

Perhaps it was because I had cornflakes for breakfast rather than bran flakes. Who knows? An hour earlier it might’ve been fine. An hour later it might’ve been even more apocalyptic. But in the end it was bad enough, and I wasn’t looking forward to the post mortem.

I don’t have much faith in the observation process at the best of times; it’s too much of a snapshot, too isolated to give any kind of accurate picture as to how a teacher is really doing.

However, that’s what most folk seem to use it for, so as I crawled up the corridor to my line manager’s office (“Dead man walking! Dead man walking!” cried the kids gleefully) I was pretty sure my goose was going to get deep-fried.

“Well, that was pretty awful,” said my line manager.

“Can’t disagree,” said I.

“So where do you think you went wrong?

“I foolishly chose a career in teaching. I regret it hugely.”

“Don’t we all. Seriously though…I’m here to help. What do you think we’re the big issues?”

(“IT’S A TRAP!” screamed my brain.)

But at that point, I figured I was for it anyway, so I basically listed all the bullet points at the top of this column (and the other ones that I’ll never tell anybody. Ever).

I then told her what I might have done differently if I had to do it again. My line manager smiled. She showed me her observation pad. The list scribbled on it pretty much tallied with my own.

“I don’t see these as problems,” she said, circling each of my embarrassments with a well-chewed HB.

“They would have been if you didn’t recognise what was happening, but you’ve pretty much convinced me that you know what’s going on, you understand that things didn’t go brilliantly and what you could do to change it, and that’s half the battle right there. I’m more interested in that than in the lesson itself if I’m honest.”

I was waiting for the ‘but’ at this point.

There wasn’t one. We spent a little bit of time talking about approaches to the material and class and then my line manager said, “If you’d like we can work on some of these together but I’m fairly sure you know what you’re doing. Let’s do this again in a couple of months. Oh, and bring more than one board marker next time. I can’t believe I’m having to tell you that, Tom.”

And that was it.

I felt that I had been supported and more importantly, trusted.

It was a discussion with someone who understood that the lesson wasn’t me and I wasn’t the lesson; who offered help if it was needed, but otherwise had enough faith in me as a professional to adjust what I was doing accordingly – and let me get on with it.

I wish all my observations were like that.

That afternoon I filled in a stationery order for board markers.

Thanks for reading.

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