Principal Helpline: What if You Have a Bad Observation On a Good Teacher?

What if your looks were judged by your driver’s license picture?

bad observation
A stressed out teacher covering her ears in front of her raucous classroom


“Yesterday I did a yearly formal observation of a teacher who usually does a fine job in the classroom. To my surprise, her class was awful! Kids were unruly and there seemed to be no lesson plan. I know she’s a good teacher, and I’m reluctant to write this up for her file. But is it OK to pretend this bad observation didn’t happen just because of her reputation?”


You have captured the essential problem with classroom evaluations that occur only once a year. It’s a snapshot in time, and it may or may not represent the daily performance of a teacher.

If a teacher knows beforehand that she is going to be observed, principals often see a showcase lesson that reflects a great deal of preparation, energy, and thought. These lessons are fun to watch, but it’s hard to believe that even the best teacher could deliver this kind of high-level instruction every single day of the teaching year. On the other hand, when a teacher knows she’s going to be observed and still delivers a sub-standard lesson, there is cause for concern.

In this particular case, rather than ignoring the lesson, I would recommend sitting down with the teacher to talk candidly about what you observed, noting that it wasn’t up to her usual standard. There may be issues outside of school affecting the teacher’s performance that she may or may not want to share. Still, she should be made aware of your concerns.  You don’t have to do a formal written evaluation of the lesson, but you should schedule another classroom observation in a week or two to determine if what you saw was an aberration or a trend.

Someone once observed that judging a teacher’s competence based on one class is like judging people’s attractiveness based on the picture on their driver’s license. Neither the showcase performance nor the sub-par lesson may accurately represent a teacher’s daily effectiveness. A second look will give you a better idea, and hopefully, you’ll see the good teacher you believe her to be.