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Why it’s in teachers’ interests to be observed.

January 13, 2013

I work in the further education sector in Scotland, which allows me to be a member of the EIS, the largest teacher’s union in Scotland. I believe strongly in unions and the rights of employees; having also worked in private language schools I’m aware of how teachers can be exploited by managers.

The EIS has a national agreement with FE colleges which means that its members can’t be observed by managers. The only people who are allowed to observe teaching staff in Scottish FE colleges are visitors from recognised inspecting bodies such as HMIe. The thinking behind this, from what I can make out, is that managers may abuse the observation process; they might have a personal dislike of someone, and then use the observation to discredit that person’s professionalism, their ability to do the job, or whatever. I suppose you can also argue that someone in a management role in an FE college may not necessarily be sufficiently trained or qualified to conduct observations, whether they are for appraisal or professional development.

However, in the same way that lecturers are bound to form opinions of their manager, managers can’t help but form opinions of their line managees. But, if the manager isn’t able to see how well his/her staff can actually teach, on what basis can he/she form an opinion of their competence in the job? All that is left is for the manager to form an opinion of the teacher based on what goes on OUTSIDE the classroom; ability to fill in registers, entering results, time spent planning lessons etc. – basically all the admin duties that go along with a teaching job.

With classroom observation removed from the equation, it’s impossible to judge teachers based on their actual teaching. This inevitably means that good teachers can’t be recognised for the good work they do. It also means that bad teachers can get away with bad teaching as long as they do their admin work OK.

I know the EIS is trying to protect its members by having this agreement in place. However, managers will always find ways of appraising their staff. As a teacher, I would far rather be judged on my competence inside the classroom than outside of it. As a manager, I am sure I would have far higher opinions of staff who are a bit sloppy in their admin if I could balance that against how well they can actually teach.

  1. I am really surprised that the teaching union in Scotland doesn’t allow FE teachers to be observed.

    The arguments you make are great, especially from a managerial point of view, but from my own point of view (one of a worker) I would want to be observed, so there is an actual record of what I have and haven’t achieved in lessons in terms of teaching skills etc. I mean, without someone coming and listing what is being done and not done in lessons, you’re left to the behest of the learners, who might quite frankly have a personal dislike towards you and say anything to get rid of you.

    • Hi Anthony,
      This was one of my first posts and I’d forgotten all about it – thanks for bringing me back to this issue. I agree completely that another good reason to be observed is simply to allow yourself to get feedback from someone else, for developmental reasons as much as anything else. And yes, your students might not always be the best givers of feedback. As you say, they might say only bad things to try and get rid of you, or they might equally say only good things because they really like you, even though they’re not learning anything.
      I think the fact that the EIS doesn’t allow managers to observe lecturers is down to historical trust issues which, in the current climate, are unlikely to dissipate.
      Nice to hear from you again,

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