Wednesday night is a bad night for blogging. It’s usually my second late night, and I’m packed to the rims on a Wednesday. This means that anything I write on a Wednesday night is always a bit fraught and I usually delete it by Thursday morning. However, what I have got is thoughts going round and round in my head and if I don’t write it then I’m not going to relax and be a normal functioning human tomorrow. You see, the thing is, there’s a phenomenon which, up to know, I’ve heard about, but never really experienced first hand: observation panic, where your brain shuts down and you turn into a soggy, useless stuttering idiot. I’ve helped people with it, and this was probably what saved me, but still, happening to me first hand? Never before.
This is what happened. This evening I had what is probably the least challenging and least unpleasant of all the managerial observations, the learning walk, and I’m very much au fait with the whole “it’s supportive, learning about what you are doing” and all that jazz. My observers tonight were two lovely and supportive managerial colleagues watching me as part of the learning walk, and the bit they got to see was, to put it mildly, a stinker. A stinky sucky car crash.
Here’s why: I’d overestimated the abilities of the students to extract grammatical structures (passive voice) from a handful of sentences, chosen bad examples of the sentences, failed to differentiate for the less able (as I’d mentally planned to differentiate for the more able) and it all flopped: pace, focus, my own ability to explain or elicit a sodding grammar point, all of it, went as limp as a three week old cabbage. And so I panicked. This was swiftly followed by awful gut-twisting embarrassment that I was panicking like a CELTA trainee in their second teaching session: “hang on, I can’t show myself up being this crap”. It took five, maybe even ten excruciating minutes for me to get my useless slug of a brain to come round and put into place a rescue activity to bring the lesson back on track (if I say it involved quickly drawing fish and fish bones, shortly followed by an empty plate with crumbs on, I’ll leave you to work the rest out). I was largely oblivious to the fact that I was jabbering away in the vague hope that someone might be able to pay attention, throwing questions to the wind, and aiming to get some sanity. The rescue task itself could have been far better, of course, but given how I felt about the whole sorry business, I’d say it was good enough for the job.
But also, as is customary in these cases, after my colleagues had left, I managed to get the lesson back to something like on track, and amazingly there was some sense of the learning happening in the lesson. It was very telling, and somewhat terrifying that one of the students, grinned at me as the observers left and said “now you can relax.” Admittedly this particular student is one of a small group who has been with me since September last year, and know me fairly well, but nevertheless my discomfort was clearly quite apparent.
What this all shows, of course, is that a) I am human, b) have a big ego, and therefore c) am supremely capable of fucking up. I’m also capable of salvaging a lesson, and, (whisper it) I’m not always comfortable being observed. Who’d have thought it, huh?