Earlier this month, I joined tenured Biology teacher Akhila Burman for her first observation under a brand new teacher rating system.
“I’ve never felt less in control of how I’m evaluated,” Burman said, flitting around the room to arrange materials, turn on the projector, and write announcements on the board at a speed that was just slow enough to be captured by the naked human eye.
The bell rang, and students filed into the classroom, along with Principal Jeremy Wolfe, who gave a cheery wave before retreating to the back corner with his clipboard. Another bell signaled the start of Burman’s lesson on cell structure, which began auspiciously.
Nine students volunteered to participate during the opening activity, and no one groaned when Burman joked, “Don’t cell yourself short!” Then, students scribbled in their notebooks and asked thoughtful questions during the interactive, memorable, and aesthetically pleasing PowerPoint.
After this compelling presentation, students transitioned into groups and began buzzing intellectually about the cell models they were building with materials that Burman had spent months retrieving from recycling bins and buying from mega-clearance sale events across the tri-state area.
Honestly, it was an administrator’s dream. Surely Wolfe was huddled in the back corner drawing enormous gold stars on Burman’s evaluation form. But what was he actually up to?
Counting. Wolfe was counting. In a pencil-swishing frenzy, he made one tally every time a student craned his or her neck toward the analog clock on the east wall. And, after closer inspection, I realized that he was also tracking the number of times that Burman tilted her (bright yet dangerously sleep deprived) eyes toward the clock.
“It’s like a game,” Wolfe whispered to me. Without slowing his pencil or swiveling his eyes away from the students, he added, “A game with the power to revolutionize teaching as we know it.”
In this “game,” officially called Clock Management, the administrator identifies whether or not students are oblivious to the passage of time. During a successful lesson, students will show no interest in the clock, and, when questioned, they will demonstrate a lack of understanding about what time means to them on a personal or practical level.
Skilled educators should, according to the Clock Management rubric, be able to produce learning experiences that disassemble individual realities and subvert the laws of physics. The bell is the only signal that should have the power to wake the class from its Trance of Learning.
“Revolutionize,” Wolfe whispered again, momentarily focusing his gaze on the tally-filled rubric in front of him.
Burman’s students completed their cell models—which demonstrated an impressive blend of authentic creativity and scientific accuracy—with two minutes left in the period. In those 120 seconds, the students threw away trash, returned supplies, and lined their projects along the windowsill.
“Excellent work, everyone! Review your notes tonight since you’ll present the models tomorrow for a quiz grade,” Burman announced. The bell rang. Students filed out of the room.
When the final adolescent straggler crossed the threshold, Wolfe shot Burman a broad smile and plopped down in a chair near her desk. “Wow!” Wolfe said, “Honestly: wow. Burman, that was so much fun! I feel like I finally understand you as an educator.” Burman choked on a swig of coffee, but placed her hand over her mouth in time to avoid spewing lukewarm spit-coffee onto Wolfe’s clipboard.
Burman sank in her chair and said, “Well, I’m glad you…had fun.” Wolfe smiled again and gave her a sneak peak of the rubric he was finalizing. Burman squinted at the page and managed to maintain a facade of professional neutrality.
“Shoot me an email when you’re ready to discuss this irrefutable data that will give you crystal-clear insight about your pedagogical strengths and weaknesses,” Wolfe said. He wished her a pleasant afternoon and took himself and his clipboard out of the classroom.
Burman fixed her eyes on the clock and let out a sigh that was deeply ancient and tragically modern. The palpable gloom that emanated from her being was too much to bear. “Thanks for your, eh, time, Ms. Burman,” I said before slipping into the hallway.
One week later, I contacted Burman about the results of her observation. She said, “It will be fun to add ‘clock-watching’ to the list of behaviors to discuss during parent-teacher conferences. I’m looking forward to this productive use of my time and expertise.”