Saturday, February 1, 2014

Teachers have feelings, too!: thoughts on Student Reviews

I just signed in to look at my student reviews. It was a less-than-rewarding experience. Only about half the class responded (I don't know which ones; that's kept confidential), and several rated my performance as a teacher as "poor" or "very poor". Really, the most frustrating thing about this is that I have NO IDEA why. Nothing. No comments. Just apparently angry or frustrated students who I will probably never interact with again. And I thought last semester went quite well. Because no one ever said anything to me about whatever it was they obviously DIDN'T like during the semester.
As a student and as a teacher, I welcome feedback. I like to learn and when I have clear feedback that helps me improve. Even negative feedback can be helpful. It's easier to take if it's delivered in a thoughtful way, of course. But this isn't feedback. It's a vague, negative reaction that gives me no direction at all. Since I don't know what they didn't like, I can't decide whether I should make changes.

Part of me wants to dismiss the negative ratings as the students' fault. Maybe they got a bad grade? But I don't know. They never communicated with me clearly. The thing is, the ratings actually affect me. They're supposed to be a tool for improvement. But I don't know what I am supposed to improve.
The worst part is that one or two students "strongly disagreed" that I cared about their learning. If I didn't care, there's no way I would have showed up early for our 8am class every weekday. I wouldn't have spent hours making powerpoints, answering their questions, holding office hours, emailing them back at ridiculous hours of the night and weekend, etc.
But those unnamed students aren't the ones I'll remember in 10 years. The ones I'll remember came to class prepared, they asked thoughtful questions, they visited during office hours and did their part. They didn't think they deserved an A just for showing up. I'll remember the ones who took time to recognize that I did care about their learning... not just their learning, but about THEM. I actually cared about every one of my students and their well-being. Shocking, I know. Who knows how often I'll see any of them, either. But they're the ones that made teaching worth all those days where I didn't feel like going to class and I went anyway. I never missed a day and it was worth it.
Oh well. I guess the key here is to just move on and remember the good things. I know I'm not a perfect teacher... there's only ever been one of those. But I do my best, just like all of my professors. And somehow it works out. In the grand scheme of things, a few negative reviews won't really affect me, and the students who wrote them have probably already forgotten about it. I guess it'll be good practice if I ever become more widely recognized as an author, too. Life goes on and all is well.

(Still, be kind to your teachers. Help them help you. If you have a problem with a class, communicate with your professor, don't just complain about it in the hallway. If you talk to your professor, the most likely outcome will be that you'll get whatever help you need and your professor will feel good about helping you out. Most people that go into teaching actually like helping students. Just be respectful of their time and do your part to do well in the class. And don't complain about grades. If you don't like your grade, do something to earn a better one.)