Mistakes Were Made

All, Education, Rants, Teaching

your education is not a game

I thought I had a pretty successful Fall semester – at least until I read my students’ final reflections. Actually, it was one student evaluation in particular that just broke my heart and made me question my value as a teacher. I will never know why that student considered my class such a negative experience and I am still trying to come to terms with that feedback. Here is my attempt to do so:

Dear Displeased With My Class (or maybe your grade?):

I believe (hope?) you are in a minority, but honestly knowing one student out of the 77 that I taught this semester is dissatisfied bothers me. Probably not for the reasons you hope, but simply because I take my job very seriously. I don’t need you to like me or love my class, although it is nice when both happen, but I do hope to change you through this experience and when students end the class unhappy and/or failing then I have failed to reach you as I hoped. I hope that some other instructors can reach you when I could not, but I worry about you because some of your criticisms reflect an attitude toward learning that I believe can hold you back in both college and life.

I worry that you see college as a board game (Monopoly maybe?) where you simply move your game piece around a board and accumulate prizes along the way until you “win” by earning enough points. I worry that you do not appreciate college as a learning experience and growth opportunity. I worry that you see college as a checklist rather than a challenge. I worry that you seem to believe that simply passing “Go” means you should collect a prize but remain untested and unchanged.

I also worry that you see your general education and other required classes as something to endure (perhaps even a distraction or penalty) and not an important part of the recipe to make you a critical thinking, well rounded, educated person. I know that you have no way to know the countless hours, debates and research, that resulted in Morehead State University’s degree programs, but I assure that every path to graduation is the result of careful thought by educated, caring professionals.

Finally, I worry that you do not see your education as the opportunity and gift it is. I hope that you will learn to welcome classes and instructors that push you outside your comfort zone with tools, experiences, and challenges. I hope that you will learn to see every college experience as an opportunity to learn and grow as a human.

I want to be clear that mistakes were made this semester. I am not perfect and sometimes my ambitions for a class exceed my grasp, but I strive to own my mistakes. I admit in class when I make a mistake and strive to learn from my mistakes as well. I hope it was not my mistakes that were the driving force behind your unhappiness last semester, because that is the worry that keeps me up at night.

Sincerely,

Wondering If I Am A Bad Teacher

Postscript:

In the interest of answering the question of whether or not I am a truly bad teacher, I decided to use Valerie Strauss’s five question checklist: “Are you a truly bad teacher? Here’s how to tell.

  1. I do not dislike my students and, in fact, enjoy them a great deal and like to brag about them at every opportunity.
  2. I love my subject matter and consider myself lucky to teach topics that are both fun and important to my students’ future.
  3. I know my topic. I’ve got multiple English degrees plus professional writing experience to support my years of classroom experience.
  4. I try to engage all my students with me and with the class and work very hard to build community so everyone is involved and engaged.
  5. I am still learning new things and changing up my classes (maybe too much?). Every new semester brings exciting new challenges.

Whew, I believe that means I am not a truly bad teacher, but I am a human one which means that sometimes mistakes are made. All I can hope is that the successes outweigh those mistakes and learn from both experiences as I move forward.

How often do you wonder if you are a truly bad teacher? How do you respond to negative evaluations?

Monopoly Artwork by Steven Tom

2 comments

  • “If education is the key, school is the lock.”
    — Suli Breaks
    (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_ZmM7zPLyI)

    In other words, school — like other human endeavors — is always a bit of a game, despite our best efforts and intentions.

    That said, the existence of your self-doubt says much about what kind of teacher and leader you are. If you had no self-doubt, you would be blind to your own flaws.

    My unsolicited advice: reflect, but don’t ruminate. And I know it’s easier said than done, but you should be grateful for “negative evaluations” because at least that student cared enough to give you critical feedback.

    Thank you for sharing your doubts; I think they’ve helped remind me that my own doubts aren’t a bad thing.

    (P.S.: It’s also possible that that student learned things they haven’t even fully processed yet, about education and about him- or herself.)

    • I suspect you are right (about the student learning things as yet unrealized). That is a consolation! I’ve always loved that slam and share it frequently…

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