One of the core principles of the teacher education program I attended at the University of Oxford was that regular and appropriate feedback is key to success. For the first four months I taught, I received feedback from an experienced teacher after every lesson. At my first full-time job, a teacher observed me once every six weeks – and more frequently if needed. I even gave feedback to student teachers. I cannot tell you how helpful it was to sit in Leanne’s religious studies class with a challenging group or see how Kate taught a dry topic in French in an exciting way. I was a serious feedback evangelist. Then, one day, I got feedback that unsettled me.
Any teacher knows that effective grading is time-consuming. At the time, I was teaching eight classes, half of which were preparation for national exams that determine whether students can continue their studies. Not surprisingly, those exam classes got most of my attention – and feedback. I simply couldn’t stretch my time enough to get to the bottom of my “to-grade” list – where those eighth-grade Spanish books were – more than once every six weeks. It bothered me, but I felt helpless. Feedback I had received before pushed me to grow, both in skills and confidence, so why was I left feeling uncomfortable and guilty this time (and still to this day)?
Firstly, instead of being honest about my time constraints, I had simply hoped that no one would notice. The feedback confirmed my own insecurities. If I had raised the issue myself, as I had done with previous challenges, perhaps I would have felt more ownership of the situation. Secondly, since the problem was an issue of time, I felt I lacked the resources to tackle the cause. (After all, the number of hours in a day is non-negotiable.) Thirdly, this was not an isolated issue. I knew my other eighth-grade class was also suffering for the same reasons. And lastly, since I would soon leave school to start a new job, I had no opportunity to prove to my class, school leadership, or even myself that I could remedy the situation. For me, this feedback would not be part of an ongoing process; it was the end of the road. Although I couldn’t change things then, I’ve learned how I can change things now. Be proactive and use feedback to your advantage. Here’s how:
- Be honest about challenges you are facing and seek out advice. It feels good to take control, and showing determination to improve demonstrates professionalism.
- Ask for the resources you need to tackle the problem. Although getting what you need might appear impossible, maybe someone else has the means to help or can suggest a compromise.
- Maintain your motivation. If you are tempted to be lazy and ignore the issue, think of the domino effect on your other classes or on next year’s class (not to mention on your own self-esteem).
- Get some follow-up. Make sure there is an opportunity for you to demonstrate the change you have made and the impact it has had. And if it hasn’t had the desired impact, get more advice!
Improving your classroom practice will make life easier for you, while also increasing your students’ achievement and well-being; it’s a win-win situation. Next time you start to sweep that problem (or those Spanish books) aside, stop, find a colleague you trust, and say the F word.
Wenna Price is an independent education consultant with a background in teaching, teacher training, and curriculum design. She can be reached at enquiries(dot)wprice(at)gmail(dot)com.