Humble Pie

Jun 6, 2012 by     5 Comments    Posted under: Uncategorized

So I gave in and read my evaluations, well skimmed them…  YIKES!!  I went from being thought of as one of the better teachers in the school to one of the worst.  There were a couple of things that really bothered me.  One was that I had such a great disconnect with the kids.  By wanting them to struggle with the problems and learn through this struggle, I think I missed the signs of when they begin to give up and resent me.  I didn’t know that so many of my kids felt so poorly about me.  I lost their respect, and it really showed.  The other thing was that I wasn’t able to see any of this.  Usually I can read people well, and am very sensitive to the kids.  I really thought that I was doing a good job.  I really thought that they were buying into the method, and that generally, I was well liked.  But, no.  Not in honors, not in regular.  How was I not able to see this?  Honestly, I believed so much in the method that I felt that I was doing great, no matter what my kids, or their parents, said.  I really felt like God had lead me to this way of teaching, and that I was doing okay with it.  Not great, but better than good.  I feel kind of silly and embarrassed.  I feel like I’m a beginning teacher again, and I lost all that I learned from 10 years of teaching.  I feel like I was perhaps a better teacher 5 years ago than I am now, even though I think about teaching, what I’m teaching, and how to teach it constantly.  I feel like it is always a constant struggle and I am currently loosing.

I talked over my evaluations with my husband.  I really respect what he has to say. He is a scientist, and is intimately familiar with being in a science class where the teacher sucked and he had to struggle through the material on his own.  We have also been in a classes where it felt so easy to learn even very difficult concepts.  I did have to struggle through the problem sets at times, but it was more of a good challenge rather than a chore.  I know I got a lot out of those classes, and retiaind the knowledge/concepts too.  What inspired me?  What were those teachers like?  I need to tap into that more.
I have to listen to what my students are saying.
My first reaction to reading the evaluations was that they didn’t get it.  And they didn’t.  They didn’t get that they have to struggle with the material to really learn it.  They didn’t get that I want them to apply the knowledge that they gained from class to many other situations.  They didn’t get that I want to give them a safe place to fail, so in the end they can succeed.  They didn’t get that I answered questions with questions so that they would be forced to really think about what they were doing.  I failed them at many levels, and I am so very sad about this.  Discussing this with my husband, I found myself saying things like, “They gave up, they are lazy and wanted to just memorize.”  I was adamant that I was not going to let that happen.  Gerbs, my husband, reminded me that part of learning is memorizing.  That he had to do this as a first step, then with that security blanket (my words, not his) he was able to venture out to more complex and higher thought processes.  Looking back, I know i have to listen to my kids.  They are screaming, begging, for a change and I have to listen to them and find out why, what went wrong.
As of now, I want to do a very interactive class next year, just not pure modeling.  This may change and I may be singing a different tune come August, but it turns out that I really, really, really suck at teaching this way, and my students suffered for it. I HATE that I failed them.  I fell that I failed my students and two of the people who I look up to very much and see as my mentors: Kelly O’Shea and John Burk.  For this I am very sorry.  I wish I could do it all again, but much, much better.
Well, I got to get back to grading, I have to finish the research papers the kids wrote.  I’ll write up a post soon about this, but we did a fantastic unit on global warming at the end of the semester in physics.  This was a keeper, but the grading of 10 page papers in lieu of a final sucks for me.  Only 31 more to go.  :)

5 Comments + Add Comment

  • I’ve been down this road too, and it hurts. I had to sit. Through meetings with 3 different admin with concerns that I “wasn’t teaching”. Now we’re making the switch to common core, and they see me as leading the way. Sometimes kids need what they don’t want. Whatever you decide, make the choice about your student s learning in mind, not how much they like you. The teachers I liked when I was in high school weren’t the ones I realized I needed the most after college.

  • Chija,
    I’ve been there, too. One thing I’ve done that helps me to avoid huge surprises like this, and helps students not to get themselves into a place of deep resentment is to give them regular feedback opportunities. For instance, every two weeks, I have them answer a short 4 question survey. The first two questions were always:

    What are the plusses for you right now—things that are helping you to learn?
    What are your wishes? Things that you’d like to see us do to help you to learn better?

    Then I’d add in two more questions about whatever I was thinking about at the time—mindset, sleep, etc.

    I found that this weekly feedback gave students a chance to voice their concerns early, and was part of creating an environment where students felt that they could have input on the progress of the class, and get a response from me to their concerns. This coupled with anonymous feedback and lots of 1-on-1 conversations about the class with kids went a long way to having students feel more positive about their own learning, the class in general, and my teaching.

  • Oh thank you Scott and John! Your words mean a LOT. I know it was going to be negative, but I didn’t realize how negative. I know that this class has a reputation for being particularly negative too.

    I like your idea about more opportunities for the kids to speak out/ have a say. Kjersti, the other physics teacher who is following me down the modeling path, and I have been brainstorming how to make things better. I try to keep reminding myself that it is not how much they like me, but how much they learn that counts. Even with that, is they hate the classroom environment, they will not be as open to learning. One of the things that we came up with was to open the class on day one of each cycle with a reflection/ journal piece. Sounds so similar to what you do John. I think that this would go a LONG way.

    The silver lining is that my administration thinks that I am doing a great job, and has zero complaints. I am very thankful for that. I would have buckled if I were in your shoes Scott. You are a strong man.

  • I think one thing I am going to do next year (which you might benefit from too) is explaining why I make the pedagogical choices that I do and do activities that deal with metacognition. i had a really rough beginning of the year with some of my students who were obviously used to a very different style of instruction, but once i invested time in getting them on board with how i was teaching (which felt like wasting class at the time) everything started to go a lot smoother.

    • I am very interested in doing this! What sort of activities are you thinking of doing?

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