Each year I ask my students to tell me what to change and improve for the next year. I make sure that I have created an area where they can be truthful and honest and they know their grade won’t be effected. I also know that I will get some “you suck”s and that I will take those the most harshly.
This year I used this as an argumentative writing piece. I gave each student a copy of this article by Affective Teaching and the response by Angela Millar (here). I wanted students to emulate what Angela did, and write a response to their teachers. The stipulations were that they could bash me by name if needed, but all other teachers must be addressed generally and we discussed slander and constructive criticism.
If you tell me I suck, I can’t get better at that, what’s something I can get better at?
So I told them to be truthful and honest. Another teacher did this as a socratic seminar article and her students explained that it was weird that a teacher would care so much and that school was about the grade and being pushed to their breaking point for success. Needless to say, I was a bit scared about what mine would write. I explained to her that my kids are pretty truthful. I spend all of my time telling them to make their point and back it up. You had to come to that conclusion for some reason, even if it isn’t the same reason I did.
My kids rocked. And while they rocked I became sad. Not because of anything I necessarily did, but that some teachers just still don’t care. They catalog teachers playing phone games or picking favorites, or just plain being rude. I know that some days, I am rude, but I apologize, and I know that some days I have my favorites, just like they do.I was proud that they really felt like they could say what they meant and I felt myself pondering the one and only one written to me.
I actually expected several more to be written to me directly because I feel like this year more than any other I have failed at building relationships. I feel like I don’t know as much about them as I want to but at the same time I still seem to know so much more than other people. I was surprised when some of my students shared that it’s eighth grade and the first time they have ever had a relationship with a teacher. I had a couple that had parts directed at me, but ultimately I felt like I could take something from each.
Our hope is to take excerpts from these letters and use them as teacher motivation in the fall. To show that there is very much room for improvement and growth as a teacher even in a “premier” district. We need to step it up and do what we know we should be doing.