Asking For, and Getting, Help

A couple of weeks ago I received the results of my teaching evaluations from this past Spring, and to say they were less than stellar would be putting it mildly. In fact, they were among the worst evaluations I’ve received in 30 years of teaching.

My first reaction was to downplay the significance of the results, and tried to look for ways to blame the students for the weak evaluations:

  • what do they know about good teaching
  • they are just upset with the grade they got and taking it out on me
  • this group of students was just an outlier, my results will be better next time

That reaction did not last too long, because as I’ve written before, I believe there is tremendous value in student evaluations. Here’s what I wrote over two years ago:

I ask my students to take the completion of the evaluation forms seriously, and to provide honest feedback about what they liked and did not like about the course and my teaching. As noted above, students know what makes for effective teaching, and I find such feedback helpful in my growth as a teacher.

So was I just saying that, or did I really mean it? These most recent evaluations were a chance to show that I do take the student feedback seriously and I know how use it to help me improve as a teacher.

So I decided to do what is often very hard for people to do, including myself. I asked for help.

I asked two of my fellow accounting teachers if they would mind sitting in on one of my classes this summer to observe and provide feedback. Doing so was a little hard, because it meant admitting that my teaching was not as good as I thought it was, especially after 30 years of being a teacher.

My two colleagues were more than willing to visit my classes, and the time and care they put into providing feedback was far beyond what I expected.

They offered concrete examples of things I could do that would likely make me more effective as a teacher. The suggestions included both things I should stop doing as well as some new things I could try. They also offered praise for those aspects of my teaching that seemed to work well.

In other words, it was exactly the kind of feedback I was looking for, and the kind that the textbooks say you should offer when providing feedback.

After receiving the feedback I felt excited about implementing many of the suggestions they offered. I’m not sure if such changes to my teaching will have any impact on my student evaluations next semester, but I feel long-term that their feedback will help me become a more effective teacher.

So thank you to my two colleagues for being so generous with your time and feedback; not only do I think it will make me a better teacher, I think my students will benefit from your insights as well.

Given how useful this has been, I plan to seek such feedback on a more frequent basis, certainly more frequently than once every 32 years.

We could all improve on the way we do things, and I learned that sometimes all it takes is a willingness to ask for help.

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