Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Mid-Year Student Surveys

The last few days of the fall semester were pretty rough. My students by and large bombed the semester exam, which I had thought was rather easy. The semester had went so well, and all indications were that the students were learning and retaining the information. It tore my well-constructed fantasy world to shreds, and I didn't know what else to say to my students to motivate them to do better.

I don't really yell, and I didn't this time. I usually speak to my students very plainly and honestly, from the heart, and more often than not they respond positively. This time, I told them I was so dejected that I wasn't sure I would even bother coming back after winter break, because it was my responsibility that they had failed so badly. Maybe I'm just not a good teacher, I told them.

There was no chance of me quitting, of course, but I didn't need to do any acting; I was really as upset as I appeared to be, and while I wasn't going to leave, I didn't feel like a very good teacher at all. I looked forward to the spring semester as a chance to prove to myself that I was, and that my students would live up to my expectations.

So as I do every year at the start of the spring semester, I gave my students a survey. Teach for America taught me to constantly reflect on my teaching and then make necessary changes to improve what I'm doing. Thus every so often I stop and ask them to tell me what's working and what's not, so I can keep doing good things and fix the bad things. I make the survey anonymous to ensure honesty.

I've been reading the results and I learned a lot about my students and myself as I do each year. Below you'll find the questions I posed, along with the student comments I found most interesting and revealing.

As usual, a lot of research and adaptation went into creating this document, so thank you to the wonderful teachers out there that inspired this survey. An editable copy is available here via Google Docs.

Dear Students,

You can help me become a better teacher by responding honestly to the sentences below. Write as much (or as little) as you want. Thank you!!!
- Mr. D

The one thing we did in class that helped me learn the most was…
"The study guide book" This was a common answer, and surprisingly I haven't posted it on the website yet. Keep an eye out for it.
"the basketball game. That made me think faster & it also made it easy to learn."
"small projects such as the one for the dependent & independent variables."
"when you explain it to me 3 or 4 times."
"the word wall"
The one thing we did that did NOT help me learn was…
"the fantasy football it doesn't help me" It didn't help anybody!
"when you just talk and talk about the same question for hours then you change to another question you confuse me"
If I could change one thing about this class that would help me learn better, I would…
"move my seat"
"take out the students that cheat and don't want to learn"
"ask the students that are missbehaving to live [sic] the class"
Mr. D could make math more interesting and exciting to me if he…
"actually looked interested & exciting about teaching us"
"would sometimes be a little happier"
Mr. D can show me he cares about me as a person by…
"Because I'm a big trouble to handle with and he just say to stay calm he almost never yelles [sic] and if he does its just a little"
"talking to me honestly."
"getting after me if I am not listening or I didn't pass"
I hate it when Mr. D says…
"when he gets frustrated!"
"that something is due tomorrow."
"keep talking & never gets to the point"
"gets mad and forgets we are human being he doesn't teach anything when he's mad."
"that he is not a good teacher"
"gets sad... it makes me sad!"
One thing Mr. D should do more is…
"seem more excited"
"laugh more"
"believe in his self [sic] and us more, and say 'good afternoon' when we come into the class" I thought I always did, but I guess I'll do it more.
Additional comments and suggestions:
"You can never force somebody to learn just work with who really wants to ask them or tell them to ask you for help and focus on them don't waste your time !!! :) U can do it if they really put an effort"
"You are a good teacher the one that needs to change is me. :("
"Mr. D you are a good teacher. I think what the problem is that students don't pay attention."
"Mr. D don't worry you are a good teacher to all of the class and it is not your fault we don't learn."
"Mr. D you have helped me improve a lot on my math skills and I'm thankful for having you as a teacher. I really didn't have anything bad to say about this class. Thanks for being a great teacher."
"Mr. D I wanted to say thanks for not living [sic] us cuz mayb [sic] to be honest there wouldn't be a nicer + more caring math teacher!! thanks"
"Thank you for being a great teacher even though people think you are not but you are thanks to you I get good grades every six weeks and I thank God he gave you math talent!!!"
"Please Mr. D don't get sad because it makes me remember so bad day's when I was little my mom kicked me out of my house and I was living in the streets and bad people did some bad things to me!"
That last one was the scariest and saddest thing I've ever been told by a student--and I've heard some awful things over the years. That particular student did put their name on the survey and rest assured I am addressing it.

What I learned from this is that what I said before winter break really did resonate with my students. I already knew that my usually serious demeanor is a put off for some students, and it's something I'm always working on. Most importantly, I'd be lying if I didn't say that many of the comments reminded me just why I'm in this thing for the long haul.

I hope if you use this survey you get some great insights of your own.