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.