Ask A Teacher: Do You Ever Wonder What Students Say About You?
Q: Do you ever wonder what the students say about you? And, if you hear about it somehow, do you ever try and change the way students think about you?
A: Maybe I’m normalizing a personal neurosis, but I find it difficult to imagine someone who doesn’t wonder, from time to time, what other people think and say about them. Isn’t that the definition of a sociopath? I am compulsively curious about how my students perceive me, although I’m not sure that it affects my actual teaching all that much, since their actual opinions are surprisingly hard to come by.
For whatever reason, I am particularly sensitive to people’s perceptions of my professional competency. So in a way, I probably ruminate on what students think about me more than most other people. That is, what they think about “me,” their instructor, not “me” their husband, brother, friend, or ace SparkLife contributor. In other words, I don’t stay up nights strategizing about how to be "down" with the student body. Even this last sentence, with its use of anachronistic slang and awkward way of drawing attention to it, should indicate my chances for success on that point (hint: pretty low).
So students can say whatever they like about my sweater vests, or the way I roll onto campus like a rock star on my single-speed bike. I don’t pay much attention to these kinds of opinions, because regardless of what anyone says, I’m going to wear a helmet, and I’m going to pull it off, big-time. But I am acutely sensitive to how students respond to my teaching. How could I not be? Teachers need to be barometers for this kind of thing. They need to know what students think about them and their class, and they need to know when students have a point, and when they don’t.
I am especially curious about these opinions because it’s so difficult to get honest feedback. Sure, there are evaluations at the end of the semester, but for some reason, most students don’t take the time to write comments, and let’s be honest, the 1-5 ratings are a waste of everyone’s time. Furthermore, the comments I do get rarely extend beyond something like, “This class was good.” How am I supposed to make use of something that general? Give me something to work with, people! Aside from eavesdropping outside of the student dormitories, which I’m pretty sure crosses some kind of line, where am I supposed to get good information about what works, and/or what doesn’t work, in my classroom?
Rate My Professor has gotten a lot of press over the years (mostly negative, at least from the educator’s side). I think it’s a good idea in principle, but I’d also generously say that only about ten percent of the comments are insightful or useful, and the whole chili-pepper designation for physical attractiveness is awful. So where does that leave me? Students can come into my office hours and tell me how things are going, but while the class is in progress, odds are they won’t want to rock the boat, and once the class is over, they aren’t going to come to my office hours. Maybe it’s for the best that I don’t really know what students think, because it frees up my teaching and keeps me on my toes, but in any event, I don’t think I’ll stop wondering anytime soon.
Do you tell/write to your teachers about their class or teaching styles?
Mr. Jung teaches college writing in Chicago, where he lives with his wife and their growing collection of street maps.
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