I do not like unannounced visitors in my classroom. These include lost birds, school tours or principals who casually drop by.
Perhaps the worst of the lot is the unannounced principal visit. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing to hide in my classroom, but there is something deeply disturbing about looking up from a long spiel to see your principal hovering along the side wall, peering over the shoulders of your students at their work with an expression that is difficult to read.
“How long has she been there for?”
“Why is she here?”
“Was she there when I made that silly comment about assembly?”
“How did she get in here without me noticing?”
“Does she think I am a bad teacher?”
Usually these surprise visits finish with the principal sliding out of the room as secretly as she entered it, frequently just before something impressive occurs.
It is very frustrating to have just nailed the explanation of something or just received great feedback from a student only to look up to see that there was no witness to it when only moments before, when nothing amazing was happening, the principal was there.
Running into the principal later in the day is also awkward as often no words are exchanged and the mystery over what she thought remains.
School tours also seem to come past at the most inopportune moments: during a rant about class behaviour, into a class that has kids heading off in different directions to collect materials, or past the window just as you have declared five minutes of free time.
The reality is, though, that classrooms don’t always look or sound how we would like them to, particularly when trying to impress. We might know that things are being achieved by our students but the whole scene may appear quite chaotic to an outsider.
Some of the most productive lessons that I have taught have involved students sitting or lying wherever they felt most comfortable and just getting things done. A passer-by might question the unconventional set-up but if it works, it works. It just doesn’t look neat!
Schools that are set up so that teachers can see into colleagues’ classrooms from their own reassure us all that we are not the only teachers in the school whose class can be challenging or who, through a window, looks less than perfect. Sometimes just being able to visually “check in” with another adult across a sea of children can have a soothing effect and make you feel as though you are not alone.
Of course, some unexpected visitors arrive with no agenda or intent to judge but can cause the greatest disruption of all.
A lost bird in a classroom is a green light for pandemonium and shrieking, peppered with earnest theories on how best to capture it. Wildlife warriors unite and guide the poor bird to an open window or door whilst the likelihood of resuming the lesson flies away with it.
Christina Adams is a member of the Australian Education Union (Victoria) and a stand-up comedian.