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.
Wondering If I Am A Bad Teacher
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.”
- I do not dislike my students and, in fact, enjoy them a great deal and like to brag about them at every opportunity.
- I love my subject matter and consider myself lucky to teach topics that are both fun and important to my students’ future.
- I know my topic. I’ve got multiple English degrees plus professional writing experience to support my years of classroom experience.
- 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.
- 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?
Note: Looking back at this post with the healing distance of years I can say that this negative feedback no longer haunts me. After all there are other students who haven’t appreciated my classroom style in the intervening years. But I also think it is that my teaching has evolved. I haven’t had feedback like that in recent years. It is not that there hasn’t been negative feedback, but I have worked really hard to build in a regular feedback loop so I can correct while the semester is in progress — or at least I can better understand where a student is coming from. I also try to treat mistakes like an opportunity to learn and grow – just like I teach my students.