My experiences teaching high school led me to believe that it would be a good idea to place video cameras in classrooms so that colleagues, administrators, and parents can watch classroom proceedings.
Many employers use cameras in the workplace to keep tabs on their workers. There is no general right to privacy in the workplace, and as long as the camera’s presence and location is known, there can be no expectation of privacy. Cameras give supervisors the opportunity to check up on employees at random intervals without altering their behavior.
But besides the general workplace reasons for cameras, the classroom is uniquely suited. Firstly, because teaching is uniquely a job that is done alone, apart from colleagues or supervisors. The need for classrooms to have walls so that students can concentrate on learning also means that teachers have no one to regularly check in on them. And random classroom visits by administrators not only change the teacher’s behavior so that typical teaching is not truly observed, they also disrupt the classroom.
Secondly, because teaching is inherently a performance. Teaching should be inspiring and interesting. And while outcomes are important, we know we can’t judge teachers solely by how well their students test. Standardized testing is a poor predictor of student success and so it is a poor indicator of good teaching. On the other hand, we know good teaching when we see it. More to the point, good teachers and administrators know it when they see it. They can see classroom control. They can observe students asking questions and engaged in the subject. They can see whether the students truly respect the teacher.
Thirdly, because parents have a right to know what their children are being taught and otherwise experiencing. The classroom camera is the only way that most parents could watch their children’s experiences in the classroom. When they come home from work, they could log in to the school computer system and download video of any of their children’s classes that day. Is the teacher teaching well? Are they controlling the class? Are severe behavior problems disrupting the learning? The ramifications for school accountability are enormous.
And lastly, the cameras themselves could make the classrooms more civil places. By creating a record of what goes on, bullying and disruptive behavior could be forced out of the classroom. We’ll never be able to stop all bad behavior, but if we take it out of the classroom, we give the students a better chance to learn.
Many people will disagree with the idea of placing video cameras in classrooms. One main objection will probably be the usual objection to cameras being placed anywhere: privacy. However, I fail to see who has the right to privacy in a classroom setting. The teacher is very much on display so he can’t have any right to privacy, and he is being paid by the government to perform a public service. The students can’t expect privacy as they are minors who have many people responsible for, and interested in, seeing that they are learning what they need to succeed. And while we don’t want images of our most vulnerable citizens to be broadcast to the general public, we can easily set up security measures to ensure that only the appropriate adults are able to view the videos.
However, there are objections more particular to teaching. Teaching is a very personal profession for many teachers, including the best teachers. They feel they have a close relationship with their students and that that relationship is therefore a privileged and even private one. But there is a difference between the student-teacher relationship and the class-teacher relationship. Teachers often serve as mentors, friends, and even surrogate parents after class, and they have every right to conduct that relationship without cameras (but with other sorts of checks in order to protect the student). But I think that a good, healthy class-teacher relationship is exclusively a professional relationship that needs to be open and accountable in a very visible way.
I also think that objections have something to do with the uniqueness of each teacher’s style. Because teaching is a performance, it brings out the personality and special qualities of the teacher. Many teachers may think that to put that uniqueness “under a microscope” would discourage it or stifle it. I can understand this argument. But like many talented performers need to get over stage fright, teachers can and will get over the added anxiety of performing for the camera as well as the class. And when they do, they will be the better for it.
Because after all, if a teacher can feel confident enough to teach in front of other teachers, school administrators, and parents, they will be a more confident teacher for their students as well.