I Still Want to Hear What You Have Got to Say (Even If You Don't Like Me)

It’s that time of the year again, the end of the school year, the summer seems so close and school is dragging as bad as the worst internet connection. I wrote about that time about a year ago (or, hold your hats, 203 posts ago!) and I thought it’s interesting to go back to that topic again. The topic being feedback.

As always I let my students write some feedback and many comments I got were fascinating to read or surprising or enlightening. I changed the feedback sheets in a way that they are all similar and different than in the past, where I let them grade me on certain aspects. Now, I ask for four different things: rating the topics we did during the year, what they think they learned this year and what the highlights and low points were. Plus a section for any additional comments. Let’s look at some of the results in each category.

Among the high points in my lessons were things like the project work (which easily was the highest ranked topic in both classes), film analysis or having deep, philosophical discussions about topics like good and evil, our culture or resistance. From the feedback, I can see clearly that students like, well, project work, because they are able to work independently and can decide for themselves, discussing issues, because they are interested in issues that we deal and struggle with every day and doing more unconventional things like movies or TV series to shake things up a little. If you look at these results, I would hope that you could agree that it’s not so hard to make students happy and have actual, interesting lessons. The time I spent with students discussing novels like The Circle, Evil, My Ishmael, Woyzeck or Twelve was immense and most of them didn’t get bored. I didn’t always involve writing stuff on the board or doing character analysis or doing all the stuff teacher material often asks you to do, but just talking. If you get students to talk, you’ll see that they have a lot to say.

What students don’t like, according to my feedback, is old books (Wilhelm Tell, Woyzeck), poetry, lessons that don’t lead anywhere or don’t achieve much or if the teacher seems to be on strike. That last point came up often but it was divided between people who didn’t like that I did it and people who didn’t like which consequences it had. While most students like discussions, some don’t like thinking about things too much, which shows this somewhat sad statement: “too much complicated thinking about humans and earth, I just want to enjoy the present” I don’t want to criticize that student for thinking that, but it’s symptomatic for how we teach ignorance in our culture. Yesterday another student told me, when others were discussing veganism: “Many people don’t want to change anything, so why should I do something?” It’s these comments that hit me hard and motivate me to keep on going. Another student wrote my favorite comment of them all: “Actually, you are pretty cool, but I just don’t like your style.” Why do I like this comment? It’s a nice challenge that someone actually doesn’t like me and I admire the honesty of that. That’s an 8th grader who thinks he can tell me that and I think that is an achievement for me, somehow. He’d probably disagree.

Finally, I want to look at what students wrote about what they’ve learned. Some of my favourite examples:

  • there is no one right way to live
  • lessons can be different
  • not every teacher is strict
  • how dumb the “it’s human nature” meme sometimes is
  • working and organizing on my own
  • homework is bad
  • to look different at ‘normal’ things
  • speak English
  • to question statements more
  • how to live vegan
  • it’s not easy to divide people in ‘good’ and ‘evil’
  • more than in French
  • that everything in movies isn’t a coincidence
  • you don’t like talking during movies
  • how you survive in a zombie apocalypse
  • to question our culture
  • that it can be difficult for some decisions to know if rational or emotional arguments are more important
  • to organize yourself in a group
  • to be more relaxed about things
  • that you should always look under the surface
  • to work without pressure
  • patience
  • that I should think before I say something
  • critical thinking, questioning society and how people behave
  • don’t just accept everything the way it is
  • that school is against new things
  • that seeing our culture from a different perspective is much more satisfying

Those are answers from all my classes, from 8th to 12th grade. I’m not showing this to brag or to make myself look good, but to show what is possible. What teaching outside the curriculum actually can achieve. That even if our school system sucks, a teacher can still get to some interesting places with her students. That it is worth it. Because it is.