There are two teacher-training E F L programmes at our college: one is a four year programme, which awards the students both a BEd and a teaching certificate, and the other is a two-year certificate programme for people holding a BA in English. A significant part of both programmes is the practicum. The practicum entails weekly observations of trainees in schools by teacher trainers. At the beginning of the academic year, a trainee is placed in a host school with an experienced English teacher, who is appointed as a cooperating teacher. The main requirement of the trainees in the practicum is to observe their cooperating teachers teach in their Merrell Boots classrooms and gradually to start teaching on their own. This usually commences after a short period of getting acquainted with the school. The trainees are assessed informally by their cooperating teachers who serve more as mentors than as assessors. The formal assessment is carried out at least twice a semester by pedagogical counsellors who are usually their methodology teachers.
In our programme, observation has two main purposes: trainees' development and accountability. Here, development means improvement of trainees' performance in class by identifying their strengths and weaknesses and by raising their awareness through providing feedback and recommendations. This process can be regarded as formative assessment, since the focus is more on development and progress than on the final product itself. The second purpose, which pertains to accountability, is to determine the trainee's suitability for entry to the educational system. This in itself creates conflicting perspectives concerning observation and role identity. The message that is conveyed to trainees during the practicum is that it represents a trial and error phase which is integral to their learning and professional development. This is intended to foster an element of trust and openness in the trainee-observer relationship. However, this trust can be impeded by the observer having to act as an inspector and final assessor. Trainees may put on an act in order to satisfy the observer's expectations and gain a higher grade for their conduct. If this happens, then they may sacrifice their own development and rapport with their observer. These contradicting roles of the Merrell Shoes observer constitute potential problems not only for the trainee but for the observer as well. The latter may feel forced into a situation of assessor due to institutional policy or, at times, national demands, when their preferred tendency is to function as a coach rather than as an assessor.
We are both veteran teacher trainers, department coordinators, and have been counsellors in a wide range of contexts. From our professional experience we realized that the observation forms that were used for assessment were changed from year to year both by us and by our colleagues. Analysing minutes from three years of departmental meetings, we noticed that the issue of the assessment forms appeared regularly on the agenda as a theme requiring modification. Some items were changed due to different approaches, beliefs, worldviews, or experiences of the teachers teaching a particular group that year. However, the changes were not significant and the essence of the evaluation forms has remained the same.