School life‎ > ‎

Observed lessons

There are two kinds of English lesson: the observed lesson and the unobserved lesson. It is essential not to confuse the two.

In the unobserved lesson, it is just you and the students, whereas in the observed lesson your DOS is present, taking notes.

Obviously they require different approaches.

Crap teachers often get into a panic about observed lessons, as they think they will be found out. However, it is quite easy to dupe your DOS.

DOSes usually have no idea as to whether a lesson is overall a good one or not. Instead, they are conditioned to react predictably to certain specific events in the classroom.

If all the students are speaking a lot in English (however dire) and you are hovering silently in the background, noting errors for correction later, the DOS will be happy.

If you are explaining a thorny grammar point and the students are looking bored or dense, the DOS will be unhappy.

The basic rules for an observed lesson are as follows:

Rule 1: Say as little as possible.

The best option is to have a “skills lesson”, in which you do not have to teach anything tricky and the students do a bit of reading, a bit of writing, a bit of listening, and lots and lots of speaking. An overall topic or theme (like the life of Elvis, an old favourite for some reason) makes the lesson look integrated.

Rule 2: Always do some pron.

DOSes are either keen on pron and endlessly go on about it being neglected, or they are slightly uneasy about it. Either way they will be impressed.

Unfortunately, sometimes DOSes get wise to all this and insist you teach some grammar.

If it is something quite nasty, like question forms or defining/non-defining relative clauses, teach it first before the observed lesson. Then when you do your presentation, the students will understand immediately. The only problem here is that when you elicit the grammar first (which you must), they will seem suspiciously well-informed.

Rule 3: Do not use the coursebook.

By all means use another coursebook, mentioning to the DOS, “I think this does it rather better.” Preferably find stuff off the Internet or use authentic materials or even write your own.

Do not go too far. Your DOS will realize that you do not normally spend hours before a lesson making finger puppets and preparing detailed grammar handouts. Some DOSes say, “Show me what you are really capable of,” so you are supposed to pull out all the stops, but why bother? He is not going to pay you any more.

Rule 4: Invent errors.

While the students are doing loads of lovely speaking, you are supposed to be listening out for errors. Of course, you cannot possibly hear anything in all the racket, so note down a few errors of the sort that the students ought to have made. You can even prepare these in advance and tailor them to the stuff your DOS drones on about, eg pron, register, phrasal verbs.

Rule 5: Do not be afraid to boast.

After the lesson, you get the feedback. Sadistic DOSes like to keep you waiting for a day or two before they tell you how crap you were. However, do not wait for them. Start the soft sell at once. As soon as the students file out, beam at your DOS and say, “Hey, that was a fun lesson!”

Teachers fresh off the Celta tend to give rather humble, accurate reports of their crap lessons. They think it is better to acknowledge their failings before the DOS lets them have it. The principle is: OK, it was crap, but at least I realize it was crap.

Old hands know this is baloney. The reason the DOS asks for your opinion is that he was not paying attention and he is worried he missed something. You can exploit this by presenting an altogether more favourable picture of the lesson. Start by saying, “I thought it went really rather well.”

Look up at this point to secure agreement. The DOS will probably (instinctively) nod and smile.

Your line is: overall the lesson was brilliant, though there were a few trifling hitches here and there. Mention these, but keep focussing on the general brilliance.

When your DOS starts on these teensy little problemettes, do not argue about them. Nod and smile a lot. Say creepy things like, “Yes, that’s a really good point. Thanks for showing me that. You certainly don’t miss much!” But always come back to the overall success of the class.

You never know, it might work.