Worth the fear.

Allison commented on Wednesday's post that she'd be scared to hear what her kids would say on an evaluation of the class and of her as a teacher. And dude, I totally get that. It's terrifying, particularly the first time you do it. But I think the information you get is worth it.

I started having my kids evaluate me during my first year. They had six questions to answer, each one paired by what was going well and what could be better, for class overall, for themselves personally, and for me as a teacher. The first two sets....whatev. It was interesting to get the information because it helped me clarify if the kids and I were on the same page about the positives and negatives of class and of their own performances. Usually we were, and when we had a disconnect, I could generally figure out why, which again would help me refine how I explained things and the different types of activities I'd incorporate.

That last set though....whew. Well, honestly, the part about what I was doing well wasn't stressful. :) It's nice to hear what your kids think you're good at! But what I needed to do better on....the possible answers on that one scared the bejeezus out of me the first time. And the second. And the third. And really....every time. I always get a little nervous reading those, and if I'm having a bad day on the day that students do the evaluations, I don't read them till I'm feeling mentally and emotionally prepared for the possibility that they will write that I am a terrible teacher who is mean and unfair and cruel and ugly and stupid and fat and.....well, you know how your imagination can just explode. They've never written anything like that, though. I think they respect the fact that I'm asking, and appreciate the opportunity to express true concerns.

My first couple of years, I got a good chunk of comments about how I needed to work on yelling less, not getting so mad, some variation thereof. Every time, it bothered me. Kids get yelled at enough, at home, on the streets, in the mall...I didn't want that for them in school. At least not in my class. I started working on it.

It's been a process and some days go better than others, and I still get angry with kids on occasion - there's no way around that, at least not for me, when they do things like refer to another teacher as a douchebag and then walk out of the room instead of coming back to discuss the issue with me. (That was last Tuesday. Ohhhhhhh was I pissed.) But I really try not to yell. I try to discuss issues as calmly as possible, and when I am really angry and can't help showing my fury (hi last Tuesday!), then the kids know that I truly mean it and take it seriously.

I could have ignored the comments about the yelling, could have brushed them off, but that would have been disingenuous; I asked, I should listen to and care about the answers, and try to change. This last round, I don't think I had a single student list that as an issue.

Which sure doesn't make me perfect. Because every time, I have a couple that write something that makes me really kind of sad, either because I've screwed up royally with something or because I just don't get along super well with that particular kid. This round, I got one that said, "I feel like Ms. Teachin' does NOT care about me as a person and a student when she doesn't notice that something is wrong."

Knife. Heart. Stab. Twist. Ow.

Because I pride myself on my relationships; I pride myself on knowing my kids, reading their moods, and asking if they're okay when they seem off. They don't always want to tell me, but I think it's important that they know someone notices, and I'm usually rockin' at that. And this student....I failed her. Which hurt.

Thus yesterday I pulled her aside to ask her about that statement and apologize for not noticing, and a story gushed out of her about her mom and dad fighting over her brother being in trouble and possibly not graduating, and how scared she was because of her dad's history of violence, and what a hard time she'd had dealing with it. I listened, and nodded, and asked a few questions, and ended up sending her to see the counselor, and just felt bad that I hadn't seen that she was in this crisis.

But the thing is, if I hadn't had her do the evaluation, I never would have known she felt that way. And she never would have told me the story, because she's just not the kind of kid to seek out that conversation, and she might never have gone to see the counselor, because again, she's just not that kid. So I have to believe that me feeling bad temporarily is worth it in the long run because now I get to feel good that she DID find someone to talk to.

I'd encourage all teachers to incorporate your own student assessments/evaluations if you aren't already. It's scary. It's hard. It's sad. But it's so worth it.

(Image credit to billso)


"I'm a dreamer but I ain't the only one Got problems but we love to have fun" -K'naan, "Dreamer"

I teach eighth grade Language Arts at an urban school. My kids kick ass and will change the world. I want everyone to know.
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