What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger!

The fact of the matter is that human beings, even teachers, want to be valued, admired and loved. The sad fact is that, as instructors, for a variety of reasons, we may not always be adored.

In the book “The Skillful Teacher” by Stephen Brookfield, the author states: “I find myself repeatedly frustrated by not achieving an unblemished record of expressed student satisfaction, for every week of the course” (Brookfield, pg. 38).

My immediate personal response to this statement was “Oh, thank goodness! I’m not the only one!” I am a people pleaser and have always aimed to have people “like” me and be happy with me. It kills me to see a negative course review at the end of the semester. There are always a couple that are less-than-perfect, even downright negative! Gasp! I care about my role, and my students, and always feel a sort of guilt and horror that causes me to ask, what did I do wrong?

As an instructor, I am slowly becoming comfortable with the fact that I will never be able to “move and inspire” each and every student, every week, through every semester. Some may really enjoy my personality and teaching style, and some may not. Some lessons will succeed, some will flop. Some students will rave about the course, others will provide negative feedback.

This is something that reading Brookfield has helped me come to terms with. We all to come the classroom with our own experiences and biases and this will never change; hence, we may just not “click” with every individual we encounter. That said, the fear of a negative review should not stop us from asking the tough questions about our delivery.

As instructors and leaders of the classroom, we must grow somewhat of a thick skin if we are to take all of the feedback and criticism that will no doubt come our way.

In regard to student satisfaction surveys, Stanford Professor Rick Reis notes the following: “I have noticed that good teachers, when they get really good evaluations, don’t quite believe them. They focus instead on the one or two erratic evaluations that say something bad about them. They good teachers tend to trust only the negative evaluations: “I wonder what I did wrong. I suppose I went too fast, or perhaps I should have scheduled in another required conference after that second test. I wish I could apologize to them, or at least find out more about what I did wrong.”

Good teachers care and want to take responsibility for their part in the student’s dissatisfaction. They want to make things right for the next group of students. On the contrary, not-so-great teachers will focus only on the positive reviews and will shrug off the negative reviews by blaming the student for being lazy, not being engaged, or not studying and applying themselves appropriately.

There are many aspects of college courses that some students will not be satisfied with, whatever the instructor does. For example, students will never stop having issues with elements such as: group work, grades assigned, formal assessment, other students, and more.

This could be for a variety of reasons, that teachers can uncover by polling & listening to their students and possibly by offering alternatives when available. Listen and take responsibility when your students (customers) give you constructive feedback; shrug off the naysayers who make personal attacks on your character.

Going forward, I will learn to grow comfortable with the fact that not every student will like my instructional style. As easy as it is to take this personally – I will try not to take it all on! I will refrain from taking responsibility for the emotions of others; however, I will critically reflect on negative feedback and make adjustments that are in the best interests of my students as a result.

Although not expected, attacks on my personal character will need to be brushed off as just that. I have only had this happen a couple times in five years, but I took it very, very personally. In the future, I will understand that I will never be able to satisfy the needs of every student, and that may not be a result of my teaching, but rather a personal issue on the part of the student or the complex nature of learning

Most importantly, I will remind myself that the point of gathering assessment is not to fashion a perfect result, but “to situate my teaching in an understanding of the emotional, cognitive, and political ebbs and flows of learning” (Brookfield, pg. 39). Despite the risk to my personal ego, I will use Critical Incident Questionnaires to improve my instruction to maximize student engagement and value in the courses I instruct.

References:

Brookfield, S. (2015). The skillful teacher: On technique, trust, and responsiveness in the classroom (Third ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Reis, R. (n.d.). 665 What Makes a Good Teacher? Retrieved December 15, 2015, from http://cgi.stanford.edu/~dept-ctl/tomprof/posting.php?ID=665

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About robincookbondy

My name is Robin Cook Bondy and I live in Ladner, BC with my husband and three sons. I am a communications and public relations professional pursuing further education in the area of adult learning.
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