Feedback: Taking the Good with the Bad

John Pfordresher’s latest post about feedback got me thinking about my own experience with feedback. First, I don’t ask for nearly enough feedback. Thanks to John’s post  I’ve been inspired to change this. Second, I don’t seem to take positive feedback well. Wait, what? Most people probably do this:

That’s me sometimes, but for the most part I can handle negative feedback, so long as its informative and constructive.  It’s the positive things – the compliments that I can’t handle. I just have a hard time accepting that they’re true. This probably has something to do with my self deprecating personality or my constant battle with impostor syndrome. When a student gives me a compliment, the first thing I ask myself is “what do they really want from me? Are they fishing for a higher grade or some leniency?” I often suspect the student wants something instead of genuinely believing that I actually did a good job and that they enjoyed my class or perhaps even learned something Even when I know the student does not want something, sometimes I feel like they are just being nice (students are not usually upfront about their true feelings when asked face to face). Or, maybe they don’t really know what a good teacher is?

I’ve been called the best teacher, the funnest teacher, the teacher that helped them learn the most, the most prepared teacher. All of these compliments have kept me up at night wondering, “It can’t possibly be true, can it?”. I think this is indicative that there is something wrong. Am I trying to live up to a standard that doesn’t exist? In my quest to be reflective in order to become a better teacher, have I just become super critical of any successes? Or, is this just an extension of my day to day personality?

I’m hoping that by making classroom feedback a more permanent fixture in my classroom, I can come to grips with whatever compliments (and criticisms) come my way. I hope that this gives me a more accurate picture of my classroom, my teaching, and myself from the students’ eyes. By doing this, I can get the empirical evidence I need to accept the positive feedback I (hope) I will continue to receive.

One thought on “Feedback: Taking the Good with the Bad

  1. haeundaelife says:

    Hello Anthony teacher,

    I am pleased that my post has inspired self reflection of your own teaching. Thank you for sharing your thoughts here.

    If I could add one thought, I would say that it is important for us, as teachers, to understand what feedback is for. What is good feedback? What is bad feedback? These are difficult questions to answer because they presuppose judgements of what “good” and “bad” mean to us.

    Examples of feedback that don’t offer much to work with…
    – Teacher, you’re the best. You’re a jerk and I hate coming to class.
    – I like your class. Because I was tired
    – This class is always fun. This class is too hard

    Now, this is not to say that the above feedback is useless. What these responses give us is an opening for dialogue that we can explore further. When I receive feedback like the ones above I try to elicit more details/specifics that will help me better understand what exactly my student is trying to communicate:

    – What exactly did you enjoy doing in class? Why? (please be specific)
    – What do I do in class that you dislike?
    – Can you give me an example of something we have done that you found difficult? What was difficult about it?
    – What class activity was fun? How did that activity help you learn?

    These follow up questions can really help us understand what our students are actually trying to communicate when they say, “teacher you’re the best”.

    In the end, it doesn’t matter whether or not our students like us or not (although we’d of course prefer they did). What matters is the students learning. Feedback is a way for us to connect with students and their learning.

    Finally, feedback is very difficult for students to give, for a multiplicity of reasons. Getting really useful feedback from students requires practice on their part. It requires patience and diligence on ours.

    With helpful and useful feedback we better understand our students learning needs and can thus tailor our lessons to better fit those needs.

    Thanks again for sharing and providing a space for a very useful discussion.

    John

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