Teaching can be very satisfying, but it isn’t easy. I (Clive) just received my course evaluation for last term and was reminded that “you can’t win them all.” I thought the course was my best ever, and most students rated it as “excellent.” But some just said it was “very good” (hmmm – why was that?) and one gave it a “good” or “moderate” on every item (what’s their problem?!).
One of the most important principles in teaching, I think, is that you can’t win them all. Some people don’t like it because it implies you aren’t going to try hard enough: it lets you off the hook. But on the one hand, it helps you be realistic and maintain your morale as a teacher; and on the other, it reminds you that everybody’s different. Different people want different things from a course and have different views on how to teach. Yes we should try to meet every student’s needs in a course, but no we shouldn’t be surprised or become dispirited when some students are not ecstatic about our teaching approach.
But come to think of it, if I found some good videos and varied the class format more, maybe I would get excellent from everyone…. Just joking!
I (Clive) have long believed in having a warm, friendly class community and a good teacher-student relationship. However, my understanding of what this means continues to grow. This term in my graduate course with 22 students I seemed to develop a closer bond with my students than ever before.
As time went by, each would greet me in a friendly, open way with a smile on their face. They told me more personal information about themselves (often in emails about why they couldn’t be at class that evening!) Before and after class, at the break or in emails, they shared with me (and I discussed with them) individual matters, e.g., interest in going on to doctoral work; wanting to teach high school rather than elementary; wanting to take an individual reading course; moving from the public to the private school sector; the struggles of teaching while raising 3 children; not really wanting to be a teacher.
I found this closer relationship had several advantages:
- There was a higher energy level in our engagement
- Our interactions – and the class experience generally – were more enjoyable
- Attendance was higher
- I could better understand “where they were coming from”
This was quite apart from the help they received by discussing their individual concerns.
Sometimes people worry about an overly close relationship between teachers and students. However, a sensible teacher can figure out what is appropriate and what is not; and in general I feel we are still far too removed from our students. We need to be constantly developing appropriate links with our students, rather than being afraid of links in general.
In terms of appropriateness, one important point is to avoid having favorites. We should go out of our way to have meaningful conversations with – and hence get to know – every single student in our class. They will really appreciate it and our own teaching experience will be enhanced.
Each fall and spring I (Clive) invite the students – 65 this year – in my teacher education cohort program to an evening potluck at our house. Most of them come, some with their spouses or significant others, and we are deluged with food – especially desserts! It is a great opportunity for them to get to know each other better and for me to finally learn all their names. It also models the type of community building and teacher-student relationship that I think is so important in any school or university class.
We had the fall party a couple of weeks ago just after our fourth class together, which was on practice teaching and the theory-practice relationship generally (sounds dull I know). One thing I had discussed with them was the importance of bringing our theories about life and education down to earth, using practical ideas that we remind ourselves of in the heat of the moment. I told them how one of the teachers in our research project was having difficulty with her class last year, so she wrote “don’t take it personally” in capital letters (DTIP) on her wrist and found it helped.
Two of the students with special IT talents arranged to have a slab cream cake made, decorated with a photo of me in blue along with three of these sayings: another was “you can’t do and be everything.” They brought the cake to the party and put it on display, and we all hoed in when dessert time came. I didn’t mind having to eat my words, they were delicious!