find that loose piece of toast as I ready myself for each and every day. What continually
surprises me, though, is how this concept – acknowledging and getting past my
discomfort with self-analysis – has helped me grow in my profession in ways that would
be otherwise impossible.
As I began my first year of teaching in Los Angeles during fall of 2004, I imagined and anticipated many of the obstacles and challenges that I was fully expecting to overcome – teaching a new curriculum, establishing a classroom culture of learning, and even delivering one or two awe-inspiring (and perhaps tear-jerking) motivational speeches to my students. In reality, however, my first year as a teacher would be best described as merely adequate instructional delivery, coupled with moderately effective classroom management and a pair of motivational speeches that did little more than cure some of my students’ insomnia.
So as I neared the end of my first year, I absolutely dreaded the final meeting I was
scheduled to have with Felicia, the Teach For America (TFA) program director who had
been supporting me through my first year. For our final meeting, I had been instructed
to videotape a lesson of myself teaching and we were scheduled to watch it together.
As I prepared for the lesson to be videotaped, I began to worry about stepping in front
of this new mirror: Was my objective on the board? Would my students be engaged?
Would my questions be rigorous enough? Would my exit ticket meet TFA muster? How
would I be able to get every single student to master the objective by the time the bell indicated our dismissal?
As I rolled over in my mind the ways I thought I needed to get this lesson “absolutely perfect”, I found myself asking even more troubling questions: Should I have chosen a
different lesson to videotape? What if TFA thinks I’m no good as a teacher? What if I’m not actually any good as a teacher? My questions kept going as I prepared for the taping, during the taping, and afterwards as well.
When Felicia finally arrived at my classroom that Friday afternoon, I had not yet previewed my tape. After the normal pleasantries, we sat down and began to watch the lesson that both of us were seeing for the first time. I sat in uncomfortable silence as I watched myself. However, as the lesson played out on the screen in front of us, I realized that it wasn’t so bad after all. I had clearly emphasized the objective, provided enough guided and independent practice, and many of the kids were on task. I knew it wasn’t perfect, but I figured it would pass.
When the videotape ended, my conversation with Felicia was not merely reassuring, it
was illuminating. She acknowledged some of the ways in which I was succeeding –
clearly connecting the objective and the lesson, maintaining routines and procedures,
and asking fairly rigorous questions. As she finished reciting what I had done right, I
expected to hear a list of things that I had done “wrong”. As Felicia continued on by
pointing out things that she had “noticed”, I ceded that this term “noticing” was merely a
polite way of pointing out ways my teaching was insufficient. However, in a move that
surprised me (and has revolutionized my thinking to this day), after each incident she
noticed, she actually suggested one or two concrete ways I might be able to improve
that aspect. In short, Felicia’s noticing was simply a platform in which to help me get
better as a teacher, and to allow me to become a teacher who is truly teachable. As our
conversation wound down, she even asked me how her feedback resonated and if
there were any particular steps that I felt I could take to improve. Having heard her
helpful comments, I eagerly responded in the affirmative, now grateful to have had the
opportunity to self-reflect in a way that I had previously been terrified of.
After that meeting, my attitude toward looking in the mirror began to dramatically shift. Yes, my lessons will rarely be perfect. Yes, I’ll always have ways to improve. Yes, I’ll even at times be oblivious to some of the things happening in my classroom. But it’s only in the act of seeing myself in action on tape that I can see areas of improvement I’d never even noticed before.
A few months later, when Felicia asked if I had implemented any of the changes she or I had suggested, I told her that not only had I done so, but some of those changes had been some of the most effective improvement strategies I’d tried that year. Felicia then thanked me again for the opportunity to feedback with her and encouraged my by letting me know how excited she had been to work with a teacher so willing to try and adopt improvement strategies, rather than merely relying on defending one’s own way of doing things. Put together, honest feedback plus a willingness to learn indicated to my director that I was an ideal candidate to teach my students.
As a teacher, videotaping a lesson can feel awkward, challenging, or even excruciating. Yet, however awkward it may be, the process of video self-analysis is not only remarkably helpful to teachers, but indicates a higher level of willingness and teachability for those in supervisory or administrative positions.
Having now taught for 8 years, I’ll be beginning an administrative credentialing program this summer and have already been learning from administrators in the field that what they’re really after in looking for teachers for their schools are not those who demonstrate perfection, but those who, through their passion for their students’ achievement, continually seek ways to improve their own craft, especially through means of video review.
For any prospective teachers who may be considering the pros and cons of subjecting a
teaching lesson to the video review process, I highly encourage it. The mere fact that
someone is willing to submit such a video demonstrates a higher caliber of
professionalism and dedication than many of their peers.
Looking in the mirror is sometimes scary, but definitely worth it.
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