Student Midterm Reviews and Instructor Reflection

Today is the day that we receive our student midterm reviews. This semester (my third at Sookmyung) were the best yet. Student reviews mean a lot at every institution, but especially in Korea. As educators, part of ‘reflection’ is to understand how our students see us. At least once a month, I record an hour or so of my teaching and then analyze it using the same forms that we ask our trainees to use when they are watching their own recorded micro-teachings. I think that this is the most efficient and honest way to truly know what you are and are not doing; as well as how you could improve. There are things that I have seen myself doing on video, that I would have never noticed in a simple “think back and reflect” task, so despite the uncomfortable aspect of the ordeal it really is the only way to go.

I also welcome feedback from my colleagues. In fact, once a semester we all share some of our recorded teachings and offer peer feedback. Again, despite the first cringe, it is always productive and especially mood-boosting when you receive positive remarks from someone who you admire and respect.

I think that you can get the point that I dig feedback and  I value professional and personal development in this field as a teacher’s training is never truly completed, not even when she is the trainer.

So, why then, do I feel like I rarely learn anything from the written feedback that I receive via the admin office from my students? Is it because it is so restricted (they can only answer a few questions)? Is it because students rarely seem to comment on the methods and strategies that the teacher is using but rather her clothes, hair, and smile? When some of my students have been asked about former instructors, they have listed “attractiveness” as a quality that they liked most about a ‘favorite teacher from the past.’ This is especially true in Korea where personal and aesthetic impressions can be everything and all resumes must come with a headshot. Adults about to enter the work field here have often reported having plastic surgery done in the hopes of landing a better job.

Maybe it’s the culture, or maybe they really only did like my hair, but in the past, I received quantitatively low reviews and barely any remarks about my real teaching; until this semester. One of the main comments that kept coming up was that I was able to deliver the content in a very meaningful way, which allowed them to process the material more efficiently (my own paraphrasing). This, of course, is every content based TESOL instructors goal, so I should feel very satisfied, and yet I only do a little. One student mentioned that my style was ‘too easy’ or that my instruction was delivered in a way that made him/her feel like an elementary student. While this is never my objective, we all have experienced a situation where students have interpreted a teacher’s strategy in an unintended way.

My gut reaction was “can’t please them all,” but this is not how I want to handle the situation. Even a colleague said, “don’t worry about the outliers.” What I want to be able to do is take each piece of feedback that I receive from my students and turn it into something useful. I want to believe that they weren’t just having a bad day, or that they were really able to learn from me BECAUSE I had nice hair and a warm smile. I want to feel that each of my students truly wants to be their best selves and wants that for me too.

What do you think? How could we improve the quality of the feedback from the students to their instructors? How can we, the instructors, take that feedback and turn it into something useful? How can we get both sides to take it more seriously?