So this was a rough semester for me. Coming off of a term in which I taught four courses, teaching just one was bizarre, and to be honest: I was bored. I was afraid that I’d let some of that boredom seep into my teaching; I didn’t feel as responsive, or as creative, or as engaged with this class as I did with their peers in the fall.
In addition, the dynamic in the classroom was a bit odd: this collection of students was quite heterogeneous in terms of both ability and maturity. Finally, I audibled toward the end of the semester and asked the students to write a manifesto, rather than a research paper. Since I’d never given the assignment before, I asked the students to play a big role in defining the assignment and determining the requirements. This was a risk, and I wasn’t sure how it would play out. I’m looking forward to reading the second drafts of their manifestos next week.
To be fair, I come to the end of every semester utterly uncertain of my own success as an instructor. Still, coming to the end of this term, I was even more uncertain than usual.
So it was with some trepidation that I sat down this week to read my students’ anonymous evaluations of this course. These are evals that I’ve created as a supplement to the formal evals that the college asks the students to complete at midterm. You can see a copy of the course evaluation sheet that I created here.
It’s always fascinating to me to see what students think they’ve taken–for good or ill–from the course. I won’t lie, though: it’s usually easier to read evals when the students are saying either nice things about you, or when they criticize parts of the course that you also thought needed work.
Overall, the feedback that the students gave me this semester was great–some gave truly constructive criticism and others offered kudos that suggest that what I’m trying to do in the classroom is coming through to them, that they’re getting something positive from the course.
Here are all of the responses that I received to three of the eval questions. Most are in random order. My responses/questions are in italics.
Question 7: As an instructor, what did I do that was most helpful to you? Why did you find it helpful?
- “Extremely critical of my writing. While sucky at times overall better prepared me.”
- “In class discussions. Everyone asked questions and contributed stuff we may not have thought of on our own. Also addressed issues we had with writing.”
- “Give us help only if we ask. You treated us like adults which I enjoyed.”
I’ve had students say something like this before. I “give help only if [they] ask” because isn’t that the way college is supposed to work? It makes me wonder what the student/teacher dynamic is like in other classrooms.
- “Was personal with the student. This made it easier to respect and pay attention to what you had to teach and share.”
I’m not quite sure what “was personal” means, either. I required my students to meet one-on-one with me twice during the semester; perhaps that’s where this is coming from. Does she or he mean that I talked to her or him like a person, rather than as a “student”?
- “1) Discussion-heavy classes are very good for me, as they keep me engaged and focused. 2) Multiple drafts of assignments, as I tend to be more productive with the feedback. 3) Peer-review work, because receiving feedback from students, not teachers, is helpful.”
- “You would explain everything in details [sic] and if we still had questions you were ALWAYS there to answer them. You wouldn’t get annoyed. 🙂 You also would ask us questions and help us improve our writing.”
- “Learning how to properly summarize.”
- “Used blackboard. Many instructors don’t use blackboard and it’s very helpful.”
Not sure if the student means Blackboard, the online system, or the blackboard in the classroom. I did use both…
- “Taught us new ways to look at articles for bias.”
- “Re-do some of the HW.”
- “One-on-one meeting.”
- “Meeting during class time.”
- “The office hours and great comments on my papers to help me become a better writer.”
- “You always answered my questions and guided me in the right direction. Thank you for your dedication.”
- “The office hours, and great comments on my papers to help me become a better writer.”
- “Clearly explaining how we’d be graded was helpful in clearly knowing how we’d be graded.”
This is an issue I’ve had in the past; I’m glad to hear that some of the changes I’ve made seemed to have helped.
Question 9: What elements of the course should I consider changing for next term?
- “More reading less writing.”
Not gonna happen, I’m afraid. 🙂
- “More class time without group activities.”
- “Do more class discussions. It’s always interesting to hear what classmates have to say.”
- “Nothing, I believe it was layed [sic] out pretty good.”
- “I liked the course. I really wouldn’t change a thing.”
- “The manifesto project.”
I agree, but how should it be changed?
- “The presentation.”
A group presentation related to the manifesto project.
- “Less casual group work.”
- “Nothing it was fine.”
- “Manifesto. To me it was pretty random: Summaries –> Compare and Contrast –> Manifesto? Ha ha!”
Someone is at least channeling the spirit of the manifesto, even if not a fan of the assignment.
- “Giving more time to do our manifesto. It would of [sic] really benefited me.”
Indeed–we ran out of time here.
- “I prefer not having a final portfolio that has such a dramatic impact on one’s grade.”
Question 10: What else would you like to tell me about your experience in this course?
- “I feel like I learned something at the end of every class period.”
Yay! But I hope it wasn’t “where the exit is located.”
- “It was pretty cool.”
- “Most helpful English course I’ve ever taken.”
Awesome! But it makes me wonder what kinds of English classes the student has had in the past.
- “More mature class would have been nice.”
- “It was a pretty fun class, not too much work but enough to keep our minds working.”
I’m choosing to take this as a good thing.
- “Thank you for being understanding and patient. It’s always a great quality in a teacher.”
This one is for my mom. When I got my first teaching job, she told me: “I never thought you’d be a teacher. You don’t have the patience.”
- “Overall, this course helped make me into a better writer. I sharpened techniques I had forgotten after being constrained to strict high school writing guidelines.”
Take that, SOLs!
- “You were a big help! You would always be there for us, if we needed anything. I liked that you never got annoyed like other professors and I liked how we could talk about anything in class.”
I never got annoyed?
- “I liked the fact that the course was used to build our writing skills instead of memorization. I like the fact that every class led up to us learning/practicing new writing skills. This way, I felt like I wasn’t just ‘thrown in,’ we gradually worked up to a final (or 2nd) draft.”
Cool–that’s exactly why I structure the course the way that I do. Many students do seem to dig the gradual approach.
- “Great class! I learned how to properly summarize an article, and much more! :)”
I hope he or she learned more than just summarizing! But I’ll take it–it’s a skill they’ll need in future classes.
- “It was good.”
- “Your [sic] a great teacher. Keep it up :)”
My lack of interest in teaching mechanics is showing. 🙂
- “Over all satisfactory”
- “Hard to say without having seen my grade.”
I’m curious to see how this one will develop. What will he or she say after final grades are posted?
Reading through their comments, what strikes me is how reflective they are of my teaching philosophy. That is, the ways in which I teach writing are pretty apparent here: I take a social constructivist approach to teaching and I put a lot of the onus on students to take charge of their own doing and learning. They’re are also a nice reminder that, hey, I’m pretty good at this teaching thing. Seems like a good path for me to stay on.