My student evaluations are in. Not very surprising but I am reminded once more of how much it matters to be likeable. I received above average scores on most measures (intellectually stimulating, organized, interested in teaching) but by scores were surprisingly low when it came to “helpfulness” and “created a learning atmosphere”. My overall score was lower than what I am accustomed to as it is usually significantly above average.
Part of the problem is that this was a new course for me, one that combined content and foreign language skill development. I came across as having very high expectations and being very critical. Looking back, I think I could have been more understanding of some students’ struggles with language, spent a bit of time reviewing grammar and presenting more vocab, and maybe been a little less severe in some of my feedback.
I think the bigger problem though, was that many students did not like me. I don’t mean “me”, on a personal level, but my teaching persona. I came across as intelligent and passionate, definitely competent despite my age, but also unapproachable and intimidating. I forgot that students are people and when you deal with people, being competent matters less than having charm. I have been so focused on perfecting my teaching and creating detailed lessons that I forgot Spring 2012.
I had an amazing rapport with my 2012 class. I had decided that semester to be an amazing teacher and to radiate positivity. I had recently watched a video of myself teaching and realized I looked unhappy when I had a neutral expression. After that, I made an effort to smile a lot more than usual, appear energetic and always remain calm but enthusiastic no matter what happened during the lesson. It worked. I had a near perfect score that term and several comments about how I always came to class happy and was extremely likeable. There was not a single negative comment and I know objectively that I am a better teacher than I was that Spring. In my efforts to be professional, to come across as good enough to be a professor, to look competent, I forgot to be a person, smile, and show my students that I am happy to be there and want badly to help them.
I’m not suggesting that teaching should be all about being popular or charming. I think the trick is to be incredibly competent while still retaining that kind, open and positive demeanor that students respond to and feel comfortable with.
When I teach summer, I will:
1) Implement a goal-setting plan and weekly progress form for students to evaluate their own performance
2) revise how I grade participation
3) offer my own French conversation/culture table during the summer since it is not offered typically
4) Keep a positive attitude and look outwardly calm and happy, no matter how I am really feeling
5) continue making great lessons and having high (but attainable) standards