During the past couple of years, I have sought regular feedback from my students in regards to my teaching. Sometimes this feedback takes a more informal form (an exit ticket asking what they thought about a particular lesson), and sometimes it is more formal. At least once a semester, I have them complete a fairly comprehensive survey of many different aspects of my teaching. Among other things, I ask they what they like and why, what they do not like and why, what we need to do more of, and what we do too much of in the classroom. I also ask them about how they think that I am doing as a teacher–am I prepared for class, do they feel as if I care about them and their work, what do I need to do better in terms of building relationships with them, etc.
I would be lying if I did not admit to a certain level of anxiety every time I conduct these surveys. No teacher wants to hear that students are not happy with how s/he is managing the class. However, I keep handing out these questionnaires for a very simple reason: they are invaluable to my teaching. I have received more useful tips and advice from my students than from most formal observations (and my school’s evaluation system is both comprehensive and excellent). But to get a direct and often very honest insight into how students experience my teaching has helped me a great deal.
To be sure, there will always be cases of student A saying “I hate this aspect of the class,” followed by student B stating that we need to do much more of that very same thing. But overall, it is remarkable how patterns start to emerge as I read through these evaluations. Strong students, students who are not not doing as well in the class, engaged and indifferent students mostly come to the same conclusions about my teaching. They note similar things that they feel I do well, and they often offer similar solutions to what they perceive as weaknesses in my teaching.
Ever since doing these surveys, I have been able to adjust my teaching to (hopefully!) better suit all my students. Of course, my students are ninth graders, and I take some of their suggestions with a grain of salt, but I have been so pleased with the fact that the overwhelming majority of their comments are thoughtful, perceptive, and informed. Do not misunderstand me, I am not advocating that we as teachers always adjust our teaching to please our students, but I do believe that there is inherent value in offering our students a voice in how we teach.
Past and present students have helped me become a better teacher, and I will continue to poll them in regards to my teaching, despite the heightened anxiety every time I analyze their input. Some discomfort is a small price to pay for all their advice as it helps me become a better educator.