In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.
This week marked the end of another school year, my third as an English and journalism teacher at Cathedral Prep. It was also the first year I was charged with teaching AP Language and Composition—to three sections totaling nearly 70 sophomores. It was a challenging task for me as a teacher, but it quickly became my favorite class to teach. It was also (and rightfully so) a very demanding class for my students, but I’m proud to say that the vast majority of them really learned a lot over the course of the year.
Their development as readers, writers, speakers, listeners, and critical thinkers was evident to me in regular class discussions and frequent writing assignments, but cherry on my teaching sundae came after reading what they wrote about the class and my teaching.
Dating back to my student teaching, one of the things I’ve done each year right before summer break is to survey the students. The survey is completely voluntary and anonymous. I preface the survey with a heartfelt plea to my students to be honest and sincere (knowing that I’ll still get the occasional goofball responses). For the most part, though, students take it to heart when you tell—and show—them that you care what they think. So I try to make my case quite clear. Logistically, principals and assistant principals are only able to observe on an occasional basis. My students see me every day at work. They see me at my best, my worst, and everywhere in between. So I ask them to be candid and spend 10-15 minutes responding to a survey that I put together. I read through every single response and take time to reflect on what it all means to me as a teacher.
The first several questions ask the students to assess on a 1-5 scale (from strongly disagree to strongly agree) several statements about the class, my teaching, and their performance in the class. Then, there are a handful of open response questions that ask the following things:
- How did this class compare to other English classes you have taken in the past?
- How did this class compare to the other classes you took this year?
- What did you like most about this class? Why? Be as specific as possible, and list as many aspects as you feel are appropriate.
- What did you like least about this class? Why? Again, be as specific as possible, and list as many aspects as you feel are appropriate.
- What do you feel are the best aspects/qualities of my teaching? Why?
- What do you feel I need to work on to become a better teacher? Please be as specific as possible.
- What are you taking away from this course that you didn’t have/know/think about/realize before?
- In 10 years, what are you most likely to remember from or about this class?
- If you have any other thoughts/comments/feedback about the year in my class, about me as a teacher, or about my teaching style, please include them below.
When I read the responses this year, specifically those from the students who took my AP Language and Composition class, I was blown away. As a teacher, these comments are the fuel that power me to show up early, stay late, and work nights and weekends lesson-planning and reading essays even when it’s not always easy, convenient, or fun. For them, it’s worth it. The end of the school year was the perfect time to be reminded of that.
My first attempt to comb through the students’ responses resulted in more than 100 results. I tried to include a few of the good constructive criticisms in addition to the complimentary comments. There’s really no logical way to rank all these comments in comparison to one another, but this project is about a series of lists, so what follows is my best effort to narrow those down to a top-30 list.
30. “Whenever I hear “rhetoric” I’ll think of Mr. Hubert”
29. “I think just the basic fact that when I’m in an argument with people, I have rhetoric in the back of my mind. I know what it takes to win an argument simply because of this class.”
28. “The interaction with the iPads and with the students, it makes the class that much better and more interactive.”
27. “I think that one thing you could do is that when you are giving a lesson, try to get the class more involved since many people tend to go on their iPads and get sidetracked.”
26. “I really enjoyed this class. You are a great teacher and this class was a great time. It’s just a shame your sports teams aren’t as good as your teaching.”
25. “The best aspects are your humor, understanding, and approachability. I felt that I could ask for help if I needed it. Also, if I had a opinion differing from yours, it wasn’t dismissed.”
24. “About the sideburns… I get how it allows you to fully grow the beard out in the summer. However i feel that they are unnecessary throughout the year. The long side burns are kind of out of date man. Well anyway have a nice summer”
23. “I like the way you taught the class. I felt as if it was a college class. Many lectures, and doing the work was all on us. If you didn’t read you were basically screwed for the assignment.”
22. “Even though there was a method to your madness, I’d say that all of the reading we completed was my least favorite part of this class. Believe me, I understand why we did it and I know it is important, but, on nights that I felt overwhelmed with too much homework or had many tests to study for the next day, I put off the reading and answering comprehension and rhetoric questions to the period right before my English class.”
21. “What I liked most was the atmosphere you gave this classroom. We focused on our work, but were still able to enjoy the class. Also, you joined in to the banter which was humorous.”
20. “Make your test slightly less time consuming. Even if you study you won’t get done until the end of the class and you have to struggle to finish all of the short answers.”
19. “Getting us to think on our own and guiding us toward the right answer (when absolutely needed)”
18. “I’m probably most likely to remember how much work I put into this class. Of all of my classes, this one made me work hard throughout the whole year. I can see the benefits of all the work I did, and it’s satisfying.”
17. “This class was very fun and interesting. Even when I walked in on days where I didn’t want to be in English, everyone’s attitude and the fun we had discussing passages always cheered me up.”
16. “The best aspects are that you actually teach compared to others and that you care about how we do and class and our grades. Some teachers don’t do that.”
15. “The thing I liked most about this class was how Mr. Hubert gave clear test reviews so we knew what would be on each test and always explained projects clearly.”
14. “I’m realizing how important the rhetoric I use is and how it can have an effect on my life. For instance, the common example that Mr. Hubert always gives us is using the argument against your friends or persuading your parents to do something. This has a big impact on my life right how and it’s taken me awhile to realize it.”
13. “The fact that you allowed us to be our own teachers and stand up at the front of the room and let us teach it. This made the class more interesting. Also, I would have to say that you were available after school and before school when I needed help.”
12. “There’s a method to the madness. The results are extremely clear when you out the effort in and do things yourself”
11. “At first, I passionately hated the long reading and difficult tests. As time went on however, I came to realize that it was all necessary, especially because many of the skills needed on the AP test were learned in class.”
10. “I really enjoyed this year in English class. From the very first day, I knew this was going to be a great year. I enjoyed leading several discussions, which was perhaps my favorite part. I was “that guy” multiple times this year, which was also something I’ll never forget. The research project was a great part of the class and I was so happy to show my presentation I went quite over the time limit. I could have gone on for the whole class! There were so many more parts that I remember but I would be going on forever. Thank you Mr. Hubert for the great year and for making this English class the best I have ever taken!”
9. “I have never had to write as much in any of my past English classes. In fact, I think I have written more this year than all of my other years combined.”
8. “I would just like to anonymously thank you, if you haven’t figured out who this was, which I doubt it, for such a great class for this past year, even if I was late 99% (okay, fine, 100%) of the year! I hope you know that I am grateful for what you have taught myself and my classmates. I can definitely use what I have learned in the future when arguing which video game is the best or why I should get a part in a play that I want. Thanks, once again, and I look forward to seeing you in the future!”
7. “I liked the inclusiveness of this class. Everyone got a chance to speak up more than once, a total of four times or more, as discussion leaders. Plus, to get the famous “2 Points for Participation,” you had to include yourself in the discussion and speak your mind about the essay we read the night(s) prior.”
6. “You didn’t disregard any answers unless they were completely off. Each student was able to give their view of a question without feeling like they were going to be shot down.”
5. “Compared to my other classes, this class was one of the more challenging, which I expected being an AP class. I enjoyed this class because it wasn’t all memorization. Most high school classes are just memorization but I don’t really like that. This class you really had to use your mind and think critically.”
4. “This year in English, I learned more than any other subject and any other English class for that matter. The course was packed full of information and it has helped develop me as a speaker and a writer more than I ever thought possible.”
3. “This class challenged me in way that actually enhanced learning and growth unlike some other classes. Other classes would often just throw assignments at us with little to no prior knowledge of it. I think this class did a great job of giving relevant and useful assignments and material to us.”
2. “In other English classes I have taken in the past I have leaned about English as in verbs and nouns etc… I learned how to speak more accurately and have conversations and arguments in this class. At first I wasn’t really sure what I was learning, but then as the year went on I figured out that this is a great class to help me in life.”
1. “I am taking away new found speaking, thinking, and writing skills. My speaking skills have developed so much in this class, especially with our discussions. My writing skills are much more precise than they used to be thanks to the essay that we read and the comprehension and rhetoric questions. Even my thinking process has changed, I now think more carefully about things and always have well thought things to say. This has even been evident in the past half year, when I went in for a job interview at Wegmans. I’ve had my job there since November and I accredit my success with interviewing to this course.”
My thanks to all the students who participated in the survey this year or in the past. I will certainly use your feedback to aid my professional development and continue to improve as a teacher.