I remember my TP during my teacher training quite vividly – not least because I was so nervous before every lesson I taught that I would feel physically sick. If you lose sleep before observations, your palms start to sweat and your stomach just won’t settle, you’re not alone. This is what I wish I’d known about observation nerves, and how not to let them win.
Before your observation:
Look after yourself.
When you’re really strung out on something, it’s only natural to feel as if it’s absorbing all your time and mental energy. It’s important in the lead up to your observation to make sure you’re looking after yourself.
- Eat properly – maybe even treat yourself to a meal out or take the trouble to cook yourself something more special than you would normally make.
- Don’t spend your whole time rehashing your lesson plan and thinking about teaching – do something completely different, and again, make it something you enjoy. Maybe get the things together that you’ll need for your lesson (especially if you’ve got lots of photocopies prepared or are taking in realia), maybe decide what you’re going to wear (choose something professional, but most importantly that you’re comfortable in!), but then put everything aside and think about something else as best you can.
- Finally, get to sleep at a decent time! Don’t go to bed far earlier than usual for the sake of it (lying there tossing and turning won’t help anyone), but equally don’t stay up really late either.
It sounds a little kooky, but this is one of the most helpful things I’ve found for reducing my observation nerves. Before teaching your observed lesson, practise! You don’t need to teach the whole lesson you’ve got planned to the same (or a different class), simply teaching the lesson to a chair/a collection of inanimate objects/a willing flatmate works just as well. If you don’t want to get up and actually run through the whole thing you could equally just visualise yourself teaching the lesson. This gives you the opportunity to see if there are any obvious flaws in your plan (for example an explanation that doesn’t quite make sense), and allows you to anticipate any problems that might occur – and think how you will deal with them.
One of the problems with observation nerves is that they tend to lead you down the path of envisaging everything that could possibly go wrong, which then makes you worry about how you’ll respond to those problems, which then makes you worry about what will happen if you respond to them badly, which then makes you worry… you can see where this is going. The only way to break this cycle is to think positively. Yes, things might go wrong during your observation, but you’ve doubtless dealt with things going wrong in your lessons before, and you know what – you’ve survived.
You know what you’re doing, you’ve prepared well, so believe in yourself.
During your Observation:
Remember that it’s not all about pass or fail.
The most helpful thing I’ve found in beating my own observation nerves has been working as a senior teacher and observing other teachers myself. Obviously this isn’t necessarily something you can easily put into practice, especially if you’ve only just started teaching and this is your first observation in a new job. However, I can pass on what I’ve learnt from observing other people:
- Your observer is not looking to fail you. Overall, they are looking for two things – things you’re already doing that are good, and things that you could improve on. Even if you taught the worst lesson ever seen, whoever is observing you is still required to say something positive. They will be looking out for positive things, not only focusing on the negatives.
- Even if you will be given a grade (above standard/to standard/below standard), observations are intended to help the teacher. Although the actual observation part is the most nerve-wracking, the most important part of the observation process is feedback. What the observer tells you is designed to help you improve. I’ve said it already, but I’ll say it again: notice the phrasing there. things you could improve on does not mean ‘things that are terrible, you’re a terrible teacher and by the way you’re in the wrong career’, they are suggestions for how you can become a better teacher. If you care about your students and you care about doing your job, then becoming a better teacher can only be a positive thing. Observations are there to help you do that.
- The chances are that your observer may well be learning something from you. Most experienced teachers are aware (but most new teachers aren’t) that over time, you do ‘forget’ how to teach properly. Bad habits become ingrained – and often it’s really interesting to observe someone else (especially someone recently qualified) as it reminds you of all the things you’ve forgotten! Even observing experienced teachers it’s interesting to see approaches that they try that you may not have thought of, or techniques, that they use that you also favour.
Connect with your students.
Remember that first and foremost, you are teaching your students – not an observer who may be sitting in the back of the room. Being observed doesn’t mean that you need to act like a robot. Smile at your students, ask them how they are, don’t be afraid to have a laugh with them. It’ll do wonders for your rapport with the students (which your observer will be looking out for), but it’ll also put your mind at ease slightly if you remember that you’re just doing what you normally do.
Expect your students to act differently.
Students freak out about observations too! It’s a matter of personal preference how you approach telling (or not telling) your students about the observation. I’ve worked with colleagues who have attempted to bribe their class into being well-behaved, and this is something I’d caution against (especially as your teens idea of “well-behaved” might be quite different to yours), but it can be a good idea to let the students know that the observer is watching you, not them, and that it’s ok for them to behave as they would do normally. I’ve had normally really talkative classes completely clam up during an observation, and equally quite boisterous classes suddenly become impeccably behaved – so don’t be too alarmed if your students all seem to have suddenly had a personality transplant. Your observer knows that students sometimes have observation nerves as well!
Ignore the observer.
I know this is far easier said than done, but as much as possible, try to forget that the observer is there. If you’re constantly glancing at them to try to judge their facial expressions/see if they’re taking notes, you’re only going to add to how nervous you feel. The more attention you pay to the observer, the less attention you’re going to pay to your students – and they are still the most important people in the room.
Don’t feel like you have to teach from your plan.
In my first few observations, I always took my multiple page, CELTA-style lesson plan into the classroom with me, and then tried to teach the lesson from it. It didn’t work. Although you generally need a detailed plan for an observed lesson, having all of that information to hand during the lesson itself isn’t likely to help. Firstly, it’s going to stand out as something very different to what you normally do, which won’t help your nerves. Secondly, CELTA-style lesson plans are terrible if you want to simply glance at it quickly and check what you’re intending to do next.
Although you in all probability need to write the plan, and give a copy of it to your observer (check first as different schools have different policies), there’s nothing to say that you can’t submit the plan – then transfer the main points of it to your notebook or wherever you normally write your lesson plans. Then take that notebook into the classroom and use it to teach from.
Be prepared to alter your plan if necessary.
I’ve had a couple of observation near disasters – we all have. However I can identify one consistent feature in all of them: they have all been occasions where something didn’t work as intended, and I moved onto the next stage anyway. If your students don’t understand something, or struggle to complete an activity correctly, it’s ok to take a step back and re-explain, or to spend some more time on that area. This is particularly important if that knowledge or the result of that activity will be necessary to then complete subsequent stages of the lesson. You won’t be penalised for altering your plan, provided you can justify why you made that decision.
Make some brief notes.
During your observation feedback, you’re almost guaranteed to be asked how you felt the lesson went, and about any changes you made to your plan. If you’re able to have your observation feedback immediately after the lesson, then no need to do this – but it’s not unlikely that you might need to wait a day or two until there’s a convenient gap in both your timetable and that of whoever observed you. Rather than sitting there umming and aahing (because by the time you’ve taught a couple more lessons, your observed one is likely to have become a distant memory) it’s helpful if you just make a few quick notes you can then refer to.
And then… forget about it!
Once you’ve taught your lesson, there is absolutely nothing that worrying about it will do – expect make you stressed out. You can’t change anything that either you or your students did, you can’t change any of the observer’s thoughts or opinions: so until you have your feedback, try to put it to the back of your mind completely. Resist the temptation to hash over how it went with colleagues (that won’t help), focus on your next classes, and when you’ve finished teaching, go and do something completely different. As with pre-observation, the time post-observation is a time to treat yourself. You survived! Go and celebrate it.