Need input from college freshman students or instructors

xminionJanuary 31, 2007

Hello all,

This last semester my evaluations from students scored high on areas such as testing, engaging students, learning applications, and the pedagogy of teaching. Despite this, the students overall rated me as a lousy teacher.

I did not receive ANY written feedback from ANY student as to what was bothering him/her about my teaching despite opportunity to do so.

Other teachers have sat in the classroom and watched my style, and rated me well. I have been videotaped. The only constructive criticism I have had was to have one teacher tell me I should pick up the pace of lecture. That's fine.

But, what is it that the students want from me or any teacher? Are teachers supposed to be mother/father/ringmaster/disciplinarian/psychiatrist/scholar/leading expert/entertainer/career counselor?

Is teaching a true calling, like(some)clergy? Any insight is appreciated.

Another one (teacher) bites the dust.

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Okay, just my opinions here. I taught at the university level for 22 years. Prior to that I had several years of experience teaching elementary/junior high.

First, I am sorry about your evaluations. That is always an upsetting thing, whether it's from a whole class or just a few students. I'm wondering what subject you teach? If e.g. you teach a subject that requires the students to do a lot of writing for you, that may inhibit them from writing details on their evals, for fear of your identifying them. In addition, some subjects are fairly easy to make fascinating and enjoyable - foreign language, science, current events. Others that require serious lecturing can be more difficult to put across.

About your question "Are teachers supposed to be mother/father......" --- yes to all of them. The more you exhibit a caring attitude and concern for them as individuals, including spending as much office hour time with them as they need, the more they'll relate to you. If you're dealing with a freshman intro course, you have students who are just learning to cope with college. Many are adrift in confusion and homesickness. Some come from homes with horrendous problems and bring that baggage with them. Some are looking for an ideal adult role model whether they know it or not. Taking all this into consideration may not seem like part of your job, but it actually should be. During my career I dealt with abortion, substance addiction, homelessness, parental and spousal abuse, and on and on. As teachers, we deal with a whole human being, not just a brain memorizing facts.

One way to show interest is to grade homework and tests carefully, with many individual remarks of encouragement.

Second, you need to project that you love your subject. That enthusiasm is naturally infectious. It's not enough to know the subject, one must show that it's the most important, fascinating and enjoyable body of knowledge possible. Along with this, it's good to be comfortable physically in front of the class. I am a very shy person, but I was transformed before the students - walking, pacing, using the board a lot (with different colored markers), waving my hands and arms. That physicality causes them to pay more attention. It does help to learn to be a bit of a "ham". Not talking about a clown here - just the necessity of forgetting about oneself and not being self-conscious. I also prepared and distributed lots of extra-textual materials and gave frequent quizzes, to help them feel that they were learning on a daily basis.

And yes, I believe that teaching is a true calling. But many of its "tricks" can be learned. The source, however, is in liking people and believing that what you are giving them is of vital importance to their lives.

It would help to know what your subject is. Mine was basically foreign language, although I also lectured in area studies, history and religion.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2007 at 3:42AM
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I was an elementary teacher, and I have been a college instructor as well.

Sable gave you some great advice. I think that teaching is a "calling", but you can learn it and do well with it - much like some salepeople are born with those skills, and others can learn how to do it.

It's good that you've had collegial peer review, and have been open to that. I would say that if only one of your peers mentioned a problem, maybe the fact that you "need to pick up the pace" is a problem? To students, there is nothing more difficult than sitting for 3 or 4 hours when you feel that you have to struggle to stay awake, because you are bored. Some subjects can just be tedious...perhaps find a way to break things up for them. Show a short video, create a brief powerpoint presentation, use overheads, an in-class assignment, etc. Although, if your students ranked you high in engaging them, I don't get it.

How long have you been teaching? Sometimes it takes a while - for K-12 teachers, they say it takes at least 5 years to be fully competent - and I agree with that, I left the K-12 teaching profession at my fifth year, when I was "starting" to feel very confident about it.

You know, as Sable said, it could just be the subject. No matter what, some subjects are just tedious to students, and the students are there only because it is a requirement. I've never marked an instructor low because I hated taking the class...for me, those would be philosophy, any kind of math, any kind of expository writing, etc, I find tedious.

So please don't bite the dust yet. Have you taught other semesters, or was this the first one? If you've been teaching a while, how were your other evaluations? Maybe you got a "rogue" bunch of students this time. If this was your first semester, if your colleagues are saying that you're doing fine, don't give up yet, if you like the profession.

I thought, too, that I would give up the "babysitting" when I started teaching at the community college level. No way. If you care, you have to coax these folks along...either they're attitudinal high school babies, or older folks (like I was when I went back to school at age 30) that just need some guidance, reassurance, a little bit of tutoring during office hours, to help them succeed. My teaching philosophy is that I'm not there only to teach, I'm there to be a cheerleader as well, and to coach them and encourage them to finish and be successful. Myself, I started community college 3 times, finally, on the third time, I happened to take a class from an enthusiastic geographer (thank you Dr. John Carthew of L.A. Pierce College in Woodland Hills, CA), and I decided, this was my path in life. Then, I went to an accelerated program for working adults (thank you PACE program at Pierce College) that had a dean that at first advised me to drop out, because I missed 3 weeks of a 9 week program, because I was out of school helping hurricane victims as an insurance adjuster. When he found out what I had been doing, yet I was still getting As in my brutal 9 week statistics class, he called back and was my biggest cheerleader. And the statistics instructor was great - math is my biggest challenge - he was so much fun - on test days, he'd tell us BYOMC (Bring Your Own Mother's Cookies), but he'd have a bag, and put them on your desk if you were looking stressed. I loved that prof. At the university, then getting my BA, I had Dr. B as my cheerleader - thank you Dr. B! He was always there for us, encouraging us, taking us on field trips just because...he didn't have to...but he wanted us to experience what he was lecturing about. When I went back to the university, after getting my Multiple Subject credential and CLAD certificate, to get my MA , there was Dr. B again, our mentor. He'd invite us grad students to his house for bbqs and study sessions. And after Fall finals, during December, he opened his home up for everyone in the department to come and celebrate.

Thanks to all of these great instructors, I have an A.A. , a B.A., a teaching credential, and I just got my M.A. Dr. B retired, but a new prof in the department, Dr. D(thank you Dr. D!!)mentored me in the writing of my master's thesis to its conclusion last month.

So, yes, you can really mean something in the life of a student. I hope that you won't let this get you down. If you feel strongly about teaching, I hope that you'll carry on. Good luck.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2007 at 11:55PM
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Different perspective here- I'm a 3rd year veterinary student. We do teacher evaluations as well and have also rated teachers very well on the standard questions yet given them a poor overall rating. However I do write WHY I didn't rate them well. I have no idea what subject you teach or what your teaching style is, and am only offering the reasons that I have rated a teacher poorly despite all the standard questions being good.

One teacher read, word for word, her powerpoint presentations. Yes, she'd ask questions of the class (hence a good rating for engaging the students) but to any student who read the notes beforehand the answer was invariably in the next slide. I rated her well for subject knowledge, engaging the students, lecture notes, and presentation but failed her as a teacher. Why? I was one of the students who read the notes prior to lecture. I had a question about one of the slides that was not explained later in the notes. So I asked. The teacher said that she had to get through the slides- ie reading to us. This was in my 2nd year of vet school and I can assure you that every single person in my class was perfectly capable of reading the slides and notes for his/herself, myself included. I politely explained that I had already read the entire lecture and my question was not answered. She repeated that she had to "get through the material." At which point I packed up my books and left the class, never to attend any of her lectures again. If a teacher cannot satisfactorily answer a legitimate question, especially from a well-prepared student, not on the basis of not knowing the answer but in the interest of reading to the class, I cannot call her a good teacher. This was a veterinary immunology course, and the section I had a question about was in the molecular aspects of an immunologic response. I know she knew the answer- I later found it myself in the book she wrote! But the fact that she couldn't answer the question in class (it would have taken a minute or less) because she was too busy reading her presentation to the class just irked me to no end. I also rate any teacher who reads to us low, because again, we can all read quite well.

A second teacher who I rated overall poorly despite high ratings for the standard questions taught a course in such a way that it was a complete waste of time. This was a veterinary nutrition course, and she spent several lectures on having us identify types of straw and grain. She also went over the definitions of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins and what types of foods were sources of these macronutrients. A prerequisite for vet school is domestic animal nutrition, and if we hadn't learned the macronutrients by college it was taught then. The veterinary nutrition course was supposed to help us choose appropriate diets for various clinical conditions, but we barely touched upon many of the most common clinical conditions (heart disease, liver disease, etc). So I had to fail the teacher for teaching things that were too basic for veterinary students.

A European History teacher in my undergrad career spent most of his time analyzing our attack on Iraq (it was started at that time). Which was very enganging and informative, but I didn't learn much about European history. Failed the teacher for not sticking to the subject matter.

I had to fail an honors English course teacher for not teaching to a higher level but instead assigning more "busy work." We learned the exact same things to the same level as my non-honors classmates, but had to write more essays and that type of thing. She only graded us on grammar and sentence construction, not our ability to write good essays.

I am about to fail a very enthusiastic poultry TAU (a hands-on course) teacher for just overdoing the whole thing. He had our poultry medicine professor come in and give the exact same lecture that we had in our poultry medicine course (not a hands-on course). That was a total waste of 2 hours. He had us visit a pathology lab and they gave us a tour that included such useless things as how they enter submissions into their computer (as if we care) and showed us the PCR equipment. We had to take genetics as a prerequisite for vet school, and we had to RUN PCR ourselves, so looking at the equipment was a waste of time- we used it before! There were so many more incidents of repeating things we had already learned or otherwise wasting time that I won't go into. Again, he'll score well on the standard questions but rate poorly overall because if there's one thing I hate more than wasting time, I can't think of it right now.

I'm not saying that you were guilty of any of these things. It's a shame that your students didn't give you any idea on why you didn't score well overall. It may be a simple matter of teaching a boring subject. It may be that because you are new you were not aware that the students already learned what you were teaching. It could be that they didn't do as well as they expected and took it out on your evaluation. I know people who do this and I do not agree with it at all.

I don't know how to find out what went wrong. Perhaps now that the grades are done, you could try to contact some students and see if they can offer any suggestions. Learn the material from any perequisite courses and avoid repeating it if possible (I know many teachers do not control what is taught). Good luck.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2007 at 12:47PM
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