I’ve been teaching since I graduated with my Master’s degree in 2006. In that time, I’ve worked for a medium-sized, state run public university (Local U.), a public charter high school (CHS), and three different community colleges (TCC, CCCC, and NSLCC). I have been formally observed by a supervisor precisely three times; once at the now-defunct Tiny Community College (where I worked from 2006 until the holding company closed the school in 2009) and twice at Not So Local Community College in the next state over, where I’m currently employed; once last fall and once last week.
One of the things I hate – absolutely hate – about being an adjunct is that I’m professionally isolated. While I’m technically a member of the teaching faculty at both schools where I currently teach (NSLCC and Local U.), I’m not a part of the teaching community at either school. I am not invited to faculty meetings because adjuncts aren’t expected to attend, so no one bothers to let us know that meetings are happening. I don’t know any of the teaching faculty at NSLCC, and I only know a few members of the faculty at Local U because I got both of my degrees there and some of the folks who were teaching (or going to graduate school) while I was a student are still there. I come to campus at both of these schools at odd hours, teach my one class, then leave; no one notices my presence (or absence, it would be presumed) and I’m pretty much left to my own devices. While that can be a very freeing thing (I wasn’t going to take the class at NSLCC if I were asked to teach another Intro to Writing class; the curriculum is set for that course and I hated teaching it last semester; I only went back because I was given a straight-up composition class), it can also be very, very lonely.
Those of you who’ve been reading here for a while know that I’m a very reflective practitioner of my craft. I thrive on interaction and feedback, so this professional isolation is wearing for me. I was delighted, then, to find out that Josephine, the Assistant Chair of the English Department, was going to conduct a formal observation of my class last week. I was looking forward to having another teacher – one whose purpose was a kind of critical analysis of my lesson and my delivery – in my room.
I didn’t do anything different that day – in fact, I’d forgotten, until I was halfway to work that afternoon, that the observation was even scheduled (if I’d remembered, I’d have probably worn a skirt and a prettier sweater). Josephine took an inconspicuous spot in the back of the room, and I conducted my class as I always do; the students did a little writing about a quote I’d chosen that morning – one that hinted at the work they’re currently doing for their current essay – and we discussed their responses as a whole group. Then, I handed out some samples of an annotated bibliography and we talked about how to assess the credibility of sources. About an hour into the class, Josephine quietly stood and left the room (choosing a really good time, in fact; she slipped out as the students were arranging themselves in small groups to work on an exercise on annotated bibliographies).
I received Josephine’s report on her observations in today’s post. There are two standard questions the observer is asked to address; one about the target’s “…teaching effectiveness with regard to content mastery” and one about the target’s “effectiveness with regard to the ability to provide clear feedback…and to motivate and stimulate student thought.” For both of these areas, Josephine found me entirely acceptable. At the end of the form, though, there’s a section where the observer is asked to give an overall impression of the teacher’s effectiveness. Here, Josephine wrote: “This was an excellent English Composition 1 lesson. Professor Chili is an accomplished instructor who presents the course material effectively and engages her students in learning through reflection. I am pleased to have her teaching once again at NSLCC.”
I have to sign and return a copy of the evaluation for the school’s records. Along with the signed copy, I included a note to Josephine in which I expressed my gratitude to her for taking the time to come to my class, and for giving me feedback. I told her about my feelings of professional isolation, and that getting positive reinforcement from a respected colleague had the result of making me feel a little like the Velveteen Rabbit; knowing that someone knows where I am and what I’m doing – and that they think I’m doing a good job – makes me feel real.