It is really scary asking students what they think of a class.
I put together a Google form survey for my AP students to get feedback on different parts of the year. I have a good idea of what I think I had done well and what I had not, and much of their feedback supported that, but some things surprised me. I made it anonymous online so they felt able to say what they needed without fear of repercussions.
While it would certainly be nice to get 5-star ratings across the board, that would also be disingenuous for my own teaching improvement. However, some things they said were quite convicting. Allow me to share to help hold myself accountable as I take time this summer to reevaluate my teaching.
Things I Already Knew from My Survey
- I don’t give enough feedback on essays – I have them write them but don’t score them fast enough for the feedback to be valuable. Or I don’t return them at all. This annoyed a lot of students (rightly so!).
- I don’t give them enough “old” texts to read, so when they got an 18th-century passage on the AP exam that included words ending in -eth, they were thrown (or “shooketh” as some of the memes suggested).
- They HATED Room with a View that I assigned for summer reading. Not because it’s a terrible book (it absolutely isn’t) but because without discussion and scaffolding, they didn’t “get” it.
- They wish we had done more with Outliers last fall.
- They really like our college application portfolio project for the final (even if they feel like they didn’t have enough time).
- They loved the Socratic circle activity and want to do more like it.
- They want more current event articles and discussions so they can participate in their world.
Things I Learned from My Survey
- More students than I expected utilize my online lesson plans I post: about 42% look at them weekly or more, and only one person admitted to never looking at them ever.
- When assigning large texts, some would appreciate chunking assignments with quizzes to force them to read it, and not leave it to the night before to SparkNote.
- My post-it note discussions were a total bust; students admitted they didn’t get anything out of them, and they didn’t read well to participate anyway because of the lack of accountability.
- Many actually like reading and discussing Plato’s “Allegory of a Cave.”
- My Lenten hymn rhetorical analysis assignment was very divisive. Some literally loved it, some thought it was the most useless paper of the whole year.
While I got some lovely, glowing reviews that certainly stoked my self-esteem, and they shared some great advice for next year’s students, one comment caught me off guard:
Let students have their own opinions and voice them without being shot down immediately. Sometimes it seems that you encourage students to speak, but do not accept their opinion unless it matches yours.
I’ll never know what I might have said or done that caused this view, but it’s very possible — even likely — in my enthusiasm to show off my own knowledge and argue my own views, I shut down students who didn’t share them.
It’s a Lutheran school and I generally assume my students are Christian and generally conservative politically — but if they are not, then yes, I can see my teaching style making them feel unaccepted. I teach them to argue, but then don’t offer room for them to do so on their own view.
This is not okay at all for a teacher. When I taught in public school I was much more guarded in my views; I took pride in the fact that my students didn’t know who I might have voted for in an election or how I felt about a social issue. But if a student has an unorthodox view in my current environment, they will likely already face censure from their peers at our school; they should absolutely never feel it from me.
After six years of teaching, I feel like I’m getting pretty good at it, but thankfully students like this anonymous respondent remind me that I have an awful long way to go, and there is always, always room for me to improve my craft. What I teach them isn’t nearly as important as how they feel when I teach them; if they feel shut down, ignored, or unloved, they don’t care how important my content might be. They won’t learn it anyway.