I’m always listening for feedback from my students. Teenagers are, after all, known for an underdeveloped brain-to-mouth filter. Since they rarely edit themselves, why wouldn’t I use their blunt comments to my own advantage and get a little better at what I do?
Laziness, for starters. Not that I’m lazy as a teacher. Lazy and teacher go together about as well as a power outage and school lunchtime. Strange analogy? Shut off all the lights in a cafeteria packed with hundreds of adolescents and see what happens. I’ve lived it. I still dream about it. My nightmares are the stuff of of flying ketchup bottles and greasy tater-tots.
But back to my point. Laziness as a teacher isn’t really an option unless you enjoy your classroom being a shit-show. The trouble is, putting forth so much effort in keeping the tater-tots out and the learning in leaves little energy for the more subtle nuances of teaching. Like interpreting teenage feedback. They may be blunt, but teenagers are rarely overtly helpful in their comments.
Adolescent feedback comes in 3 main categories: The Obnoxious Comments, The Backhanded Compliment, and The You Just Totally Got Called Out.
The Obnoxious Comment: These are the comments and questions that, should a teacher not be in an actively reflective mood, are usually fielded with a sarcastic response. Are we doing anything today? We should have a party. Can we just take a nap? School sucks. (As a note, on my non-feedback seeking days, my standard answers are, respectively, 1. Yes, we’re all going to pick our noses then wipe the boogers on your desk. 2. You are correct. We should have a party and you should all bring me gifts. 3. Certainly. As soon as you get home. 4. And by “sucks” you mean “Good morning, Señora! How are you today?”)
The thing with The Obnoxious Comments, is that if you’re getting them from one kid accompanied by a shit-eating grin, he’s just being a pain for the sheer delight of it. If, however, you are suddenly hearing similar comments from multiple students, do a check-in with your class. They’re telling you they’re fried, so there’s likely something else going on. AP tests coming up? Long stretch without break? Report cards due soon? When The Obnoxious Comments rear their head with any sort of frequency, I’d bet money the kids are stressing over something.
The Backhanded Compliment: The most affirming type of teenage feedback, The Backhanded Compliment can easily slip by unnoticed, or even be mistaken for an Obnoxious Comment.
“Argh! Yuck. Now I have to go to math/English/P.E.” Seemingly an Obnoxious Comment related to School sucks, the student is actually implying is that being in your class is preferable to going to math/English/P.E. So kudos to you.
“Geez, Sra. How come we never get to do just nothing for a day?” Sounds like a whiny Are we doing anything today? but actually indicates that you’re setting high expectations for your students and they know that when they set foot in your room, they’re going to be working their tails off.
My favorite Backhanded Compliment? Dude. This class isn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. Warms the little cockles of my heart every time.
The You Just Totally Got Called Out: By far, this is the most unpleasant teenage feedback device. These little puppies are hard to ignore, but rarely result in any direct teacher improvement, because they tend to come with a nasty sting that knocks us straight into defensive mode. The You Just Totally Got Called Out feedback generally appears in dialogue form between two members of the same class in a semi-whispered-but-not-really format:
Q: “Geez. Why is Señora so crabby today?”
A: “Whatever. She’s like this all the time with us. She hates our class.”
Q: “Whoa. I totally bombed the vocab section of my test.”
A: “Don’t worry about it, man. Everybody did. Sra. always tests us on on crap she doesn’t teach.”
You Just Totally Got Called Out comments generally involve some exaggeration but still ring true which is why we get defensive. You might not hate every member of that class, but it’s probably not your favorite. And you did teach that concept…though admittedly half-assedly.
Whatever feedback format your students choose to use, Ignore the sting (or buy yourself a beer to take the edge off) and then sit down and think about it. Your students are probably right. They usually are.
Which is why it would be so much easier to get their feedback in a straightforward form. Interpreting teenage comments is annoying, time-consuming, and unpredictable. I never know when my students are going to bless me with the opportunity to be Totally Called Out. But I always need to work on getting better.
So I created the opportunity for them to tell me what they think. I had them write love letters to my class. And the results were so insanely helpful (and fun – getting totally ripped on was actually fun-) that I”m passing it on. Check out the new label at the top of the blog: Useful Junk. It’s Shit That Works (the original label title but, worrying I might be crossing the Crude Line when I’d much rather be doing a little jig on top of it, I toned it down a notch) in ready-to-use form. I’ve tried to make it as idiot-proof as possible. Which in no way, dear reader, implies that you are an idiot. It’s just my way of saving you time and work. Read, print, use. Here’s the link for the Love Letters: http://pigsong.blogspot.com/2011/11/love-letters_25.html That’s right. You’re welcome.
In return, just do me a little favor. If you use it, “like” it and pass it on. At least give me a little credit for doing your work for you. Because if you don’t I have no qualms about Calling You Out.
Backhanded Compliments and Obnoxious Comments entirely welcome. Enjoy.