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Is observing other teachers an effective way to learn different aspects of teaching?

Diary submitted by Charlotte C, Erasmus+ internship in Valencia

During my TEFL experience, both here in Spain and as a learner teacher in the UK, I have observed many different teachings. It is a process which many if not most teachers experience today as for many teaching qualifications today is it compulsory to shadow or observe more experienced teachers. From my previous experience it is an effective way to develop as a teacher, as it allows you to witness both positive and negative teaching techniques, which you can then use to become a better teacher yourself. Observing is also a way to observe the theoretical aspects of TEFL and witness them in a practical manner. Despite this, some also criticise lesson observations as being ineffective for several reasons. 

Advantages:

 As I previously mentioned, I believe that peer reviews or observing other teachers is a great learning tool, especially when you are a total beginner for teaching. You are able to witness first hand on activities that work well for students, and also able to draw conclusions on what doesn’t work or how certain activities could be improved for a class. Especially when observing a greatly experienced teacher, It really triggers key ideas which will then be used in your teaching methods. I myself, have often used certain games, activities and approaches that I have seen other teachers use within their lessons. It’s great to learn from others and could also benefit the teacher being observed. Cristi Alberino states that peer reviews is a way to ‘use one another for professional development’, which echoes the idea of not just observing the teacher for your own personal development but also to provide feedback to the teacher being observed, which could improve their teaching style also. 

Disadvantages:

However, this process does of course come with some disadvantages. 

 I think for me, the biggest down fall was that I felt I was merely replicating someone else’s teaching style, and not developing myself as a teacher. During my teaching module at university, I was planning and delivering fun, creative lessons that often contained a variation of material and activities. I was praised for my creativity and diversity as a teacher, which kept the students engaged. However, when I arrived at my first placement, I was so nervous, as this was a very different atmosphere and dynamic, so I felt almost pressured into just following everyone else’s teaching methods, and felt I lost my sense of creativity a little, as I felt these teachers were more experienced and therefore I should have been replicating their teaching methods, rather than using my own. Therefore, sometimes I personally would rather be ‘chucked in at the deep end’ and just constantly learn through my own faults, on what works for me as a teacher, and for the target students. 

It is also suggested that some classroom observations may also have disadvantages for the teacher being observed, and the general outcome of the review. To expand, the observation may totally affect the dynamic of the class, by disrupting the students, or making the teacher nervous or on edge. Therefore, the observer may witness a very disorientated and chaotic class, which usually would be a well-behaved and well taught class. Often having an observer in the room puts all participants on edge, and therefore could have a negative outcome of not witnessing the teacher’s true ability or learning much from the observation. 

Overall, I do believe that observing other teachers is an effective way for new teachers to learn and develop, eliciting activities and teaching methods which they could use in their own way. However, I think it is also important, for those whom have previous experience, that whilst we can always learn other techniques and teaching strategies, being your own person and developing your own teaching style you feel comfortable and happy with is the main outcome of being a TEFL Trainer student. 

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