This rant started with a student asking me “why are you constantly changing how you teach?” Ironically, the answer to that question deals with the students themselves. Simply put, there is no better teacher than our students.

If you have ever seen me or heard about me teaching, then you probably know that I love trying new things and changing the way I teach constantly. I am an extremely critical person when it comes pedagogy especially my own. However, it was famously said that the “easiest person to fool is yourself”. This fact makes it hard to really be critical of yourself.

Taking this to heart, I tend to think this about my lessons each and everyday:
  • If I were a student, would I like this way of teaching?
  • Am I missing something in the lesson?
  • How can I make something more fair to the students?
  • Am I changing things just to change them?
  • What is the logic behind this change?

Ultimately, my classroom is created by the fact that I love making the classroom experience challenging, fun, and fair. It is important to note that what other teachers are doing or what I was doing previously is not ineffective. Again, I am just extremely critical. Like many people, I believe in constant improvement in what I am passionate about. There is absolutely nothing that I am more passionate (besides my family & friends) than teaching. You know you’re passionate about something when you annoy people by talking about it so much.

That’s me.
There is no off switch.
Just a mute button.

This passion leads to a constant search for improvement. This begs the question: what is the best way to learn how to improve one’s teaching? For me, there is no better professional development than the students themselves. The problem is that sometimes teachers do not fully listen to their students. Sure, they listen somewhat, but I mean actually taking what they say to heart and on a day-to-day basis. I am not speaking of something like end of the course evaluations. I am more talking about asking the students their opinions and wanting the truth with ego aside. This entails everything from the classroom environment to how the students are perceiving how I am communicating with them verbally and otherwise. Student feedback should be looked at in the same regards as teacher feedback.

It is important to note that student feedback might be flat out wrong especially if students are not taught how to provide meaningful feedback. I am not trying to hint that students are these impervious judges of character and intent. However, there is “grace in their failings”.

Their feedback, incorrect or not, helps paint an image of how they see your teaching. This is why feedback should be part of a larger conversation, not simply a one-sided thing.

So how can honest, pure student feedback be attained? Well, as I always say, it starts with relationships. If you have a strong, trusting, and safe relationship with students, the more potent and honest the feedback could be. If students are not afraid of hurting your feelings for the sake of their grade (or anything else), the feedback can be invaluable. Granted, we don’t always live in this perfect world where relationships like these can prosper. Class sizes, course rigor, lack of time, etc. can get in the way of developing such relationships at times. So what else can be done if you don’t have a strong relationship with students? Well, as a big proponent of educational technology, I would say that there are some options available.

For me, I include a “Comments Box” on my website.

This “Comments Box” is a completely anonymous and confidential Google Form in which students can write whatever they want without fear of me finding out the writer is. Whenever a student submits a comment, I make it my duty to bring it up in class. The students know this ahead of time as I tell them the first day. Bringing up comments in class proves to the students that not only do I read the comments, but that I actually care about their feedback. Many teachers have commented that they are afraid of what students might say about them. To me, this is the professional equivalent of an ostrich sticking its head in the sand. Of course some students might write bad things just to be mean, but that is important information actually. It shows that some students, through no fault of your own, might feel disenfranchised by your class or school. As professionals, we need to have thick skin when it comes to students writing mean things for the sake of being mean. That being said, I have literally NEVER had a student write something that was blatantly mean. Oddly enough, I get students writing positive messages, some even years after I have had them in class. Other times, I have gotten tremendous feedback on how I approached a lesson or said something that might be misconstrued as rude (I am quite sarcastic sometimes).

Another thing I do is that after every unit, I give an anonymous and confidential Google Form in which students explain positive things that I did in the unit that helped as well as things that they wish that I did differently. A lot of times, here is where students will write things that are basically flat out wrong. For example, I had a student say that I need to start giving review guides that are “monkey see, monkey do” versions of the test. Basically, they wanted a review guide that mirrored the test so that the test was easier. This goes against best practices. However, the students don’t always know that. This is a great time to bring up this idea to the class as a whole so they understand the logic behind why I do what I do and why certain things I will not do.

Again, it is paramount that not only are you getting feedback, but also doing actionable events as a result of them. Either change the behavior or at least address those students’ concerns. Ignoring feedback is basically telling those students that you either don’t care about their feedback or that you are not willing to grow as a teacher.

I would like to end this little rant with a quote that I heard from somewhere that always sticks with me. “If you fail to stop learning, then you shouldn’t be teaching.”

Altered image by blog author for means of nonprofit education.

I take this to mean that if you stop learning how to teach better, then you shouldn’t be teaching. In my opinion, there is no better teacher than our students. We just need to be unafraid and open-minded enough to listen.

So, in conclusion, why do I constantly change how I teach? Just as we teachers want students to improve based on our feedback, I want to do the same from theirs.

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