Ever heard of the John Muir Trail? That (and my wife’s mission trip with her youth group) is where I’ve been for the last month. Some people have complained, and they need to lighten up.
Mario: “I think [this class] is fair because everyones idea is respected.”
Deja: “It’s fun and I can’t wait to get to this class.”
Sara: “Mr. V grades fairly but is too nice with giving good grades, (not that that’s a bad thing).”
Jose: “I’m fine with my grade because I know I didn’t try my hardest.”
These are the kind of student responses that help me form my class for the next year. I read each one, every year.
The prompt goes something like this:
“Gentlemen and Ladies, you are going to grade me [pause for incredulous exclamations]. I want to know how to be a better teacher, so you’re going to grade me honestly. And don’t spare my feelings. You must fill out the whole thing.
You don’t need to put your name at the top–it can be anonymous if you want. I will read every one of these. Also, if you give me all As or all Fs, I’ll know that you didn’t care and I’ll burn it…laughing while I do.”
As with anything I field a few space-head questions (“Do I put my name on it?” “Can I give you all A’s?”) then turn them loose.
I change up the questions every year, (the 2012 download is at the bottom of this page) and this year, I used a whole back page for short-response questions.
*The “test-day shirt” to which Sara refers is this one, shown here on Crazy Hat Spirit Day (with a student drawing of me wearing it). I wear the Test Shirt every test day (including all 5 State-test days) as a way to lighten the mood for students with test anxiety.
UPDATE 13 July 2012:
Andy‘s right; I should mention what I learned from this experience.
In previous years, I’ve noticed startling trends in the fairness category. I would consistent low marks when it came to “treating all students the same” or “giving consistent expectations”. Fortunately, I know the students’ penmanships well enough to ask the class as a whole for further feedback. Some of those chats went like this:
Vaudrey: A lot of people marked me low for fairness. Why do you think that is?
(This is about June–most of them are checked out. Or they know me well enough to know that tactfully, respectful criticism will be well-received)
Maria: Well, sometimes you treat certain students with more second chances.
Jose: Yeah, like when I got detention for talking during the test, but Jamal talks all the time. (Several students nod).
Vaudrey: You’re right; that doesn’t sound fair. Anything else?
If I prove that I won’t get butt-hurt by student feedback, then the class gets a little more bold in their assessments.
Sarah: Sometimes, your morning breath is really bad.
Drew: Yeah, like dog crap.
Vaudrey: Whoa! We’re getting a little carried away. Sarah, thanks for your honesty. Drew, keep in mind that we’re focusing on improving my class, okay? Anybody else?
In full disclosure, here’s what I learned from this year’s reports:
- Middle school students have much less to bitch about than high school students.
- About 15-20% of students would like more explanation on tough topics. Nobody said my teaching pace was too slow.
- Most of the students liked my class. A few students really liked my class. That felt good.
- I’m doing a better job of treating all students fairly. (That sample conversation was from a few years back.)
- For next year, I should teach more closely to the standards, so students see common questions before the test.
- For next year, I should keep the class under tighter control. In recent years, I’ve slacked on classroom management because I taught seniors. Eighth graders need a little heavier hand.