High School Students and Teacher Evaluation: One Success Story

Last week, I had the joy of meeting up with students I hadn't seen in over ten years. It was a powerfully emotional moment for me as I remembered just how much I loved and liked these people. They are just...wonderful.

Because our book, Transparent Teaching of Adolescents, just came out, we took some time to meet and catch up on our lives and celebrate what we had created together: our classroom experiences in English courses and Theatre courses.

From a classroom management perspective, the class functioned as a dialogue, a constant flow of What are we learning? How are we learning it? and, more to the point, How well is the teacher teaching it to me? It was constant evaluation.

Talking with students who themselves had become teachers was very cool (one is teaching in China). But what was exceptionally intriguing was seeing that our classroom dialogue had never really ended; it had just seamlessly morphed into a book.

This text is our conversation of what I did as a high school educator that worked well or epically failed.  It models our approach to projects and assignments and the dialogue.

Not everyone approves of this method, though. Stanley Fish,  professor of humanities and law at Florida International University in Miami, and dean emeritus of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, former instructor at the University of California at Berkeley, Johns Hopkins and Duke University and author of 11 books--in other words, much more of an expert than me--asserts that there is danger in relying on student evaluations.

In his article, "Student Evaluations, Part Two", he assures us that college students have no business evaluating their instructors because the students really don't have the necessary skills or appropriate motivation to do so for any effective purpose.  Thus, it doesn't take a huge leap of logic to figure that he would say the same (and more vehemently, no doubt!) of high-school students.

I guess it wasn't so much that I catered to my students' feedback; rather, I listened to it. I took what was pedagogically sound and kept it. Fluffy stuff, such as "We don't want any homework" was dismissed. However, as Aristotle gently reminds us: "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without [necessarily] accepting it." Isn't that what evaluation is all about, anyway?

Much like our classroom experiences together, without student input, this book wouldn’t have happened. Through Facebook, Skype, and Skydrive, we were able to collaborate virtually from across the US and internationally. We have a beautifully eclectic group in this discussion, including students who dealt with me as student-teacher, first-year teacher, and veteran teacher.  Thus, the overview readers receive spans several phases of a teacher-in-the-making.

By the time they reach high school, teenagers know the teaching business.  They know what works and what doesn’t, how to get under a teacher's skin and how to avoid doing anything. Seriously capitalizing on their input is at the heart of our conversation.

By creating a transparent atmosphere that encourages student feedback, teachers not only tap into the students’ critical thinking skills, they also strengthen rapport—a crucial component of an effective high-school classroom management plan.

Transparent Teaching of Adolescents takes the reader on a journey and time-line from before the school year begins until it ends. With so many new teachers leaving the profession in less than three years, one of our goals is to re-ignite the passion of those who find the task of teaching high-schoolers increasingly overwhelming.  Our other objective is to provide new secondary teachers with a sense of the whole of teaching before they take on class loads.

So, it's not a book about just me, the teacher, chirping out strategies for you to consider, and it's not just the good stuff. Students also examine my mistakes as both a new and veteran teacher. After all, we learn more from our mistakes, don't we?

We invite you to join our conversation and let us know what you think!

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