My Lessons For The Year

After a few years away from it, I decided that I could use a good course evaluation survey to give my classes.  So I whipped one up on Google Forms, and had the children fill them out yesterday during our last day of class.  It deals with every aspect of the class, from the utility of the different materials that I use, to various questions about what should be changed/kept the same.  There is even a section for advice to future students. 

If you haven’t ever done this, I can’t suggest it enough.  In my own experience, the relationship between most teachers and supervisors is such that no particularly insightful criticism is offered during observations and the like.  Students are bound by no such strictures, and will only be too happy to tell you just what they didn’t like about your class, provided you give them the opportunity.  

Provided below are the most critical comments offered about the experience of me.  Out of 40-odd survey takers, there weren’t too many unhappy customers (in fact, most had nothing but great things to say on the “about me” section), but you can’t deny that those who did have gripes sound legitimate in their nature and offer me a series of concrete objectives to work toward for future classes:

Question:  ”Briefly explain your least favorite aspects of <Me> as a teacher.”

AP Biology Replies (16 students total- omitted responses are things like “nothing”, or procedural issues related to course mechanics):

  • At times I felt I was joked around with a little too much.
  • <I> sometimes had these very drastic mood changes. It kind of scared me at points. He would enter in these great moods one day, but the next it would seem as if something dark would control him because his response to certain things would be quite crude. 
  • Maybe answering every questions even if it does seem “stupid”, and not showing too much attitude.
  • Least favorite aspect? Uhh gee, I guess he can occasionally be a bit sarcastic, but I think he clearly mentioned in the beginning of the year his sarcastic demeanor. Nothing in particular requires any changes. Oh, maybe give more straightforward answers instead of beating around the bush. I dunno. 

Honors Chemistry Replies (25 students total- omitted responses are things like “nothing”, or procedural issues related to course mechanics):

  • he can explain things a little more clearly when students ask him questions on certain material.
  • My least favorite aspects of <Me> as a teacher are his lack of explanation of things without being asked about it. For example, when teaching new topics he doesn’t explain things as thoroughly as he could. Also, when doing math problems, he goes very, very fast and does the problems on his own and then compares answers. A better way to go over math problems, I think, would be to ask students to show their work more often or ask which steps to take. The speed gets very confusing.
  • <I am> some times impatient or forgetful that the students might not always understand. There’s sometimes an idea that because it is an honors class we should be able to pick things up right away. I think explaining things a few more times, especially things that are particularly more complicated, would be great. Other wise, he’s an excellent teacher. 
  • I think that you should be more opened to answering questions.  I felt that a lot of the time you would make the students feel dumb for asking certain questions, and i think some kids didn’t ask questions because they didn’t want to hear what you were going to say.  Also, I felt that you made people feel uncomfortable when they answered questions wrong.
  • Using words like “moron”, even if it is as a joke. 
  • What you should stop doing is, jumping down a students throat when you are asked a question. You say you’re open to answering questions yet when they are asked you almost sound as if you’re yelling at them for not knowing something. It makes them embarassed and uncomfortable. Many students felt this way about you but did not address it. Many students were reluctant to ask questions because they did not want to be yelled at. 

For me, the last three are probably the most difficult to read.  Clearly, these three students had specific interactions with me during the past ten months that left them feeling like I thought they were not as intelligent as they should be.  I don’t know too many teachers who would be psyched after reading those responses.  I can do all sorts of mental gymnastics to twist things back around:  I know for a fact that I have never called a student of mine a “moron” in my life, though I am similarly sure that I have used it to describe the peers of my students in relation to how they might act in the hallway or otherwise.  Admittedly, the patience that I have for a student’s questions is in direct relationship with the effort that I perceive that student to be putting in to learning the material of the course, particularly in elective AP and Honors-level classes.  I am similarly wary about a perspective that speaks to the thoughts of “many” students when I have those student’s contradicting perspectives on the same questions.  This kind of justifying is a momentary salve, but at the end of it you still feel like you missed a chance to help a kid love science.

What is most impressive to me is how tangible most of the critical feedback is.  It is obvious what I can do to work on these things for next year, particularly with regard to pacing, tone, and the way that math problems are discussed in Chemistry.  In fact, the critical comments that my students have offered are much better, and far more actionable than anything that I have ever received on an official observation from a supervisor.  It might be interesting to give teachers the ability to allow student evaluations to factor in to their formal professional reviews, though something tells me that such a concept is not even close to the sphere of teacher evaluation ideas that the state is currently paying companies to develop.