Thursday, September 13, 2007

Class Observation Season

It's a tradition in the Math Department that all new teaching faculty (non-research) have one of their classes observed by me during their first semester with us. Now that we've gotten though the chaos of the first few weeks, I'm starting in on my class observations.

I'm not really sure where we find the people who we hire. Some, I suspect, were looking for work outside the Home Depot, and the Math Department drove by with a pick-up truck and loaded a bunch of them in the back. When I observe their classes, I find myself daydreaming and speculating about what it was that they did for a living before they came to work for us. Were this more of a formal process, I'd try to pay closer attention and take real notes. But the way it is now, if I wrote up something about my observation, it wouldn't go anywhere except in my filing cabinet. All these observations do is warn us (and by "us" I mean "me," as when students call to complain, they are put through to me) about possible problems; there's not much we can do in the midst of the semester.

Today's was sort of boring, and I think that he thought that the students know more than they do. Or maybe I'm pessimistic and I assume that the students don't know anything unless you explicitly tell them. He was teaching about higher derivatives and assumed that the students already knew what velocity and acceleration are, and he used those concepts in his examples. He tried to get the students to participate by asking questions in class, but I think they were too vague. I'm wondering if he is some sort of out-of-work engineer. I don't think that he comes from a teaching background. He didn't plan enough material, but since I was observing, he didn't want to let the students go early, so he borrowed a textbook from a student and filled out most of the rest of the time by doing homework problems.

The one that I observed on Monday was awesome. I don't know where we found him, but I hope we can keep him. He was teaching remedial algebra, and only one student in the class was text messaging (this is an awesome accomplishment, as our remedial students are famous for their lack of engagement). He had them answering questions, working on problems. I felt like there was a chance that at the end of the semester some of them might be ready to move on to the next course in the sequence. He did it all without refering to notes at all, but it was clear that he had complete control of the pacing and the flow of the class. If he wasn't a high school teacher in his previous career, our schools missed out.

I have one more scheduled next week, and two more that still need to be scheduled. Really the one that I need to follow up on (as he never responds to my requests unless the Big Boss talks to him) is the guy who has trouble communicating in English and who might not know the course material. I've already heard a complaint from one of the students. I'm hoping to be pleasantly surprised, but I suspect that sitting in on his class will merely confirm my fears.