Monday, November 5, 2012

A Bad Lesson

I like interviews.

I like them so much that, when my close teacher friends go on interviews, I always ask about questions and how they answered them. I'm not exactly sure why - it's probably because I like talking about teaching. Some of my friends indulge me, others don't.

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine went on an interview for a teaching/department head job. I've been the head of a science department for six years now, so I was especially curious as to the questions they asked. I also wanted to think about how I would answer them.

 I only remember one of the questions. When she told it to me, I secretly thought, "Ohhh, I have a good answer for this one." Then, when she told me her answer, it made me stop thinking that. Her answer was better than mine. A lot better.

The question was, "What would you do if you observed a teacher in your department and saw a bad lesson?" It's a pretty simple, straightforward question. How would you answer it?

At the time, I probably would have said something like, "Well, I hope that I would have already formed a relationship with this teacher, and that I would have a good idea of whether this was an normal lesson or an outlier for them. Then I would discuss it with the teacher, asking them to reflect on the lesson."

My friend didn't say that.

She said, "Can you explain what you mean by a 'bad lesson'?"

That made me stop and think. Describing a lesson as a "bad lesson" really doesn't get at what the purpose of the lesson is. Looking back on it, it really isn't such a great question. The interviewer explained that by "bad lesson," she was referring to a classic, boring "sage on a stage" type lesson that didn't usually engage the kids.

So, what makes a bad lesson?

My friend continued, "I'd have to find out if the kids were learning. As long as the kids are learning, I don't know that I'd call it a bad lesson, so I'd need more information as to why or what parts of the objective were not learned."
This was a great answer - if I had been interviewing her, it would have been a HUGE plus in my notes. (She did not, however, get the job. Their loss).

Anyway, this makes a very important point - lessons and teachers should be assessed by the results they produce. Any lesson that efficiently progresses students toward a worthwhile objective is by definition an excellent one.

While teachers, as professionals, should be willing to try new things and grow our skills, we make a huge mistake when we judge lessons and teachers based on teaching strategies alone. A teacher that lectures students regularly is not necessarily doing a bad job, nor is a teacher regularly using student-centered strategies doing a necessarily good one - or vice versa.

Any teacher that effectively builds relationships with kids and consistently effects learning is good enough for me.
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  1. This is a great point!! One I wish administration and media remembered more often. Its easy to pick out "good teaching" and "best practice," but there is more than one way to achieve that goal and often times many others are overlooked. Unfortunate! It also needs to be part of a conversation with the teacher, or a series of observations about their teaching style, and the reasoning behind it.

  2. Great point, taral. I agree - involving the teacher in post-lesson reflection (regardless of the lesson level/style) is often revealing, and can lead to growth in the teacher and observer!