This year has been an amazing year in terms of my career. I’ve published my first article, chapter, and book. I’ve almost maintained a 4.0 in my studies. I’ve been active in the American Chemical Society and as a science communicator. And, unfortunately, it has been a so-so year in terms of my teaching.
While the response rate on my student evaluations was fairly low (overall 40.86% of students responded), I still scored overall between 4s and 5s (“agree” to “agree strongly”, both of which rank positively on the Likert scaled questions) and this result is unexpected as some of the comments were fairly scathing. My assumption with the low response rate is as it ever is – if only 41% of my students responded, then 59% of my students were generally apathetic or were satisfied enough with my teaching to not respond. But this assumption is a major one, and, as always, I wish more of the students who responded to the evaluations were not those who embody the extremes – those who love my teaching or abhor it. It would be really nice to hear from the middle groups of students more often on these end-of-semester evaluations that the school cares about, not just those I give within class.
While the positive comments were as they ever are (“she’s awesome, best chemistry teacher ever”), the scathing comments centered around my lack of communication with students, students’ general unhappiness with SmartWork (the online homework program), or active learning. While two of those – SmartWork and active learning – are things that I will not change in my pedagogy as the positive responses at least equal, if not overwhelm, the negative responses, the lack of communication theme is something I can work to change. The comment that I don’t communicate via email within the 72-hour timeframe is mostly an exaggeration I believe, often because my DL students count weekend and evening hours within the 72-hour timeframe (which I have clearly delineated in the syllabus). Yet I’m sure there were times when I indeed did not respond in as timely a manner as I’d like or I responded via a class email, which I’m beginning to wonder if my students read. To remedy this “lack” of communication, I am writing quick emails that redirect students to the class emails or previous responses. The hope is that this redirection will help students recognize the tools they are overlooking in DL that will help them succeed in the class.
***Of course, I fully recognize the quick response is a vital communication vehicle and that I should have embraced this quick response sooner.***
A sore point for me within the comments is when students decide I have a condescending attitude. I work diligently to embody an enthusiastic, encouraging, and cheerleading type of teaching, so being called condescending is hurtful. I have reflected on this throughout the years as I have repeatedly gotten this comment by the rare student here and there. Over ten years ago, when I could recognize writing on student evaluations, this comment often came from the same student who had followed me throughout different chemistry classes. And I am at a loss as to how to interpret that anomaly – why in the world would someone repeatedly take me for classes when they perceive me to be condescending? And if this was truly how they felt, why didn’t they make it more clear within the class, not just on an evaluation? I recognize there is a significant power differential within a college course, but I have often provided ways to give anonymous feedback throughout the course and have not once had a comment like this. Except on student evaluations.
So I have no real idea what this comment truly means. Is this a misinterpretation of when I become a more Socratic teacher and ask questions instead of outright answering a question? Is this a misinterpretation of some part of my humor? Or the most horrifying possibility – am I truly condescending at times when I am tired and done and not my best self? I’m still not sure and really continue to wish that I could ask my students what they mean by this comment.
An ever-present struggle I face is trying to reconcile the instructor I am F2F with the instructor I am DL. These two instructors are definitely not the same instructor, and I definitely believe the DL instructor to be lesser. I am trying a few new things – like a weekly synchronous session – to align these two instructors. I am also working on giving feedback more readily and quickly to help students understand my expectations for them within the class. But the reflection on how to align these two more thoroughly continues.
And yet, all of this comes at a time when I find myself persistently more interested in educational research than teaching. While I would definitely miss teaching if I no longer taught any classes, I am finally at a place after 15 years where I no longer thoroughly enjoy teaching as often as I do. I could use a break. Or a new challenge, Or a new attitude. Or maybe I just need to finish these degrees I’ve been working on for 4 years now.
Or maybe I am ever evolving, and this timeframe has been more chrysalis-like than I have chosen to admit. Maybe I am still becoming who I will be in my next iteration of my career. And maybe that person needs this chrysalis time to explore the possibilities and opportunities of her future self while embracing a job she REALLY knows and loves. For the moment, that means staying put. But once the butterfly emerges, the possibilities may be endless.