How to Handle a Teaching Observation that Goes Terribly Wrong

I have had two teaching observations that have taken a turn for the worst and  lived to tell the tale.  Here is what happened to me and what I learned from each of these experiences.

The Issue: Out of Control Student!

Screen Shot 2013-04-08 at 9.19.39 PMThe first time, I was teaching a symmetry lesson to a group of eager 2nd graders.  I purposely chose my most well-mannered 2nd grade class for this observation and was sure give the classroom teacher a “heads up” that the principal would be in my classroom during their art period.  What I failed to do, was to provide the Special Education teacher and associate with the same information.  As it turned out, one student with Autism, who came with an associate teacher, was having a terribly bad, no-good, day prior to coming to art.  His mother had forgotten to pack his medication and he was behaving accordingly.  This sweet-natured, loving little boy was completely not himself.  He arrived late and had to be convinced to come into the room.  He shouted during directions and then ran around jumping on the radiator at the rear of the room.  His associate chased dutifully behind him and eventually escorted him out of the room.

How I handled it: I stopped the students from working, so we could have a little discussion.  I thanked them for how they handled themselves while the other student was misbehaving.  We took time to talk about his needs and how, at that particular moment, he needed good role models.  Then, I resumed my lesson.  In my post-conference wrap up, I brought up the incident.  Might as well talk about the elephant in the room, right?  To my surprise, my principal actually complimented me on how I handled myself and the rest of the class.  She didn’t dwell on the incident, to her, it was just a small part of the overall experience in my classroom.  Whew!

What I learned: I kick myself for not giving the Special Education teacher and her associate the same courtesy as I did the classroom teacher.  This was an error on my part.  This particular student may not have even come to art class if they knew about my observation, paired with his lack of medication.  I apologized to both women later that day and made sure not to make that mistake again.  I also learned that sometimes it is okay to “go with the moment” even if the topic is not art-related.  It was a perfect time to talk with the rest of the class and thank them for their model behavior.  This experience was an unsettling to them as it was to me.  It was nice to talk about it, let them ask questions, and then move on.


The Issue: Lacking Skills


The second incident happened during a 5th grade art observation.  To be fair, my principal was supposed to observe me during my second 5th grade class, but she decided to pop in during my first class.  I was introducing the grid method and students were supposed to measure and create a 3 inch x 3 inch grid.  I modeled the technique using a document camera and set the students to work, but as I walked around to observe their work one thing was particularly clear: most students did not really understand how to use a ruler correctly!  They were holding it with their fingers sticking out while trying to draw straight lines and making HUGE dots for each measurement, which skewed the grid.

How I handled it:  I stopped the lesson.  I reviewed basic ruler use, how to hold a ruler, and demonstrated how to make a small mark while measuring.  I also passed out really good erasers and told the students to try again!  In my post conference interview I admitted that I should have reviewed ruler use at the beginning of the lesson, and my principal agreed.

What I learned: I wish that I would have had students practice using a ruler at the beginning of the lesson.  I should have never assumed that they knew and remembered how to use a ruler.  Measuring a line in math class is very different than using a ruler to measure and construct a grid.  It is the application of a skill that promotes a higher level of understanding.  I did not set them up to succeed.


Have you experienced a teaching observation gone wrong? 

Please feel free to share!  What did you learn from this experience?

Heather Crockett

Heather is AOE’s Project Manager and an expert in differentiation, curriculum development, and assessment. She is a veteran teacher in the art room and at the graduate level.


  • My teaching observation gone wrong happened when I was trying to get a very tough group’s attention to share the next step of the art project. I did one my cute little ‘attention getting’ dittys and like 2 kids looked up. So I did it again. MAYBE 2 more looked up. It took like 5 trys to get everyones attention and I am pretty sure I resorted to yelling at one point. Ahhhhhh… So embarrassing. I don’t know why this happened. End of the day, students were engrossed in their artwork and they were just being stinkers. Of course, this was discussed in my evaluation, but it was a productive discussion. :)

    • That is a horrible feeling, but at least they were engrossed in their artwork and not causing a ruckus!

  • erica artprojectgirl

    no evaluation went wrong, but the other day an administrator walked into the last 5 minutes of my toughest class. I really wanted to show her my teaching in action (how egocentric can you get!) but only had a few minutes. I started to hand out a writing prompt that I had planned for next class. As soon as it left my hands I”m thinking “What am I doing! We have to go!” Then my class looks at me like why are you making us write now? I think I just so wanted her to see something besides lining up. We were late to leave, I felt off center, what a mess.

    • They always seem to come during CLEAN UP TIME! The most chaotic time by far. This happened to me all the time. Hold your breath and hope for the best. I commend you for trying, Erica, you had all good intentions in mind.

  • stephanie dowdy

    During my first unnanounced observation I had the WORST of luck. I teach on a cart and the teacher of the class before the one being observed came 10 minutes late so I was left with NO prep time. Then as I began the lesson a tech guy comes in, walks straight in front of me and climbs onto a desk RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROOM IN FRONT OF ME TEACHING! I was horrified and so was the observer. It threw me off a bit. I’m also a first year teacher and was teaching some color theory for the first time with 4th graders and I was trying to get a feel for what they knew, so the lesson didn’t go as smoothly as I wanted it to. My post-conference went really well though and she told me that I handled everything really great! I felt like as long as I was doing what I was supposed to, I was going to handle those interruptions in the correct way.

  • Alexandra12979

    This is the second week of school and I’m a new teacher. My principal comes in with someone from the district. And she observes my kindergarten class which had 16 children. I’m teaching about lines and we talked about different types of lines. We start the project and it seems ok when the principal whispers that we need to do something else because we have 18 more minutes of class. So I had prepared that they glue precut strips of paper. I pass them out but I forgot to tell them how to glue because I was so nervous so the principal had to tell me. She was walking around trying to help the other students. It was a big mess. She would intervene at times about the behavior. At one point, one child started crying because the district person was hovering over her asking about her lines. I was mortified. Should I speak with my principal about it? And what should I say?