Today, I decided to try an experiment, one that sort of scared me to death. I asked my students to reflect on my teaching and to give me a grade this trimester. It was part of a larger reflection in which they thought about what they had learned this trimester – what had they worked on; what had been challenging; what had been too easy. I had them list some goals that they had for themselves for the rest of the year. In talking about why I wanted their feedback, I told them that they know how I teach far better than any administrator or head of a department. They laughed when I asked them, “Who knows the best when I teach a boring class or forget to collect the homework?” They clearly loved the sense of power that it gave them, knowing I knew they knew me better than those who have real power in the school.
While I know that many of my students like my class, it was definitely intimidating to leave the security of my position as the authority and ask them, the students who must be in my class each day, to speak and have a voice. I asked them about activities that they enjoyed and ones that they found boring; the ones that were too easy or just seemed irrelevant. I wanted to know if there were times when I lost their attention or when they were confused and didn’t speak up to let me know. Then I asked for a grade. I told them that they could make the grade anonymous if they liked, but that since they always are graded by me, now was their chance. I also made it clear that giving me a bad grade would not affect their grade in the class in any way, but that they would help me to be a better teacher.
The range in grades was from C+ to A+, but I learned the most from the low grades, especially from the C+. It was from a student who suffers her confusion in silence, always doing her work, though often without understanding its meaning or its connection to other work that we have done. My teaching was not meeting her needs in many ways, and she had the courage to say so. She wanted more structure and fewer activities (things others love), because she struggled to understand what each piece had to do with the others. This was amazing information for me to have! I now understand this particular student in a way that I hadn’t before. Because she was willing to take a risk and share what class was really like for her, I can now figure out the scaffolding that will make it easier for her to have success.
Part of the wonder of asking my students to evaluate me was in learning that for each part of class that some students love, there are often as many students who find it challenging or boring. By giving me their responses to different tasks, I can be that much more aware of who to support and who to push further. It was just great information about how they are experiencing their learning. There was not one of them who wanted to fail, and it is now my job to use this information to to make sure that they have more success than failure . My job now is to learn from them and change, so that in June, when I ask them again, they can see that I took the time to listen to them and honor their honesty. It is sort of scary to hold myself accountable in the same way that I hold them. Can I change and grow between now and the next time someone writes a comment about me? We shall see!