Yesterday’s announcement of a new national study of student surveys reminded me of a paper I wrote while in graduate school. We were studying classroom management, and it seemed to me that the resources we were learning from were all written by adults. Hardly anyone seemed to ask the kids for their point of view. The students did have front row seats in the classroom, so to speak (at least those who weren’t choosing to sit in the back). And it seemed to me that we adults could learn from them.
My inspiration was an article — “College Teacher Misbehaviors: What Students Don’t Like About What Teachers Say and Do” — published in a Communication Quarterly journal a few years back. For my field-based professional development project, I polled students from high schools in the Kansas City metropolitan area. In the poll, I asked whether they had ever experienced any of the types of teacher misbehavior described in the journal article.
Their top ten concerns were:
- Boring Lectures
- Late Returning Work
- Keeps Students Overtime
- Confusing/Unclear Lectures
- Shows Favoritism or Prejudice
- Information Overload
- Strays From Subject
- Unreasonable and Arbitrary Rules
- Deviates From Syllabus.
I found it interesting that “Boring Lectures” topped this list, despite the fact that educators today know lecturing is not the most effective way to communicate with students. Although I focused this field-based study on gathering information from students, I also learned something about teachers along the way. Several teachers I contacted were extremely supportive. One math teacher even planned to schedule computer time for her students to fill out this survey during class, because she wanted to learn what their responses were and adjust her practice accordingly. At the other extreme was an art teacher who responded in part:
“The basis of the survey is hearsay, personal opinion and you will not get anything other than exaggerated and often inflammatory responses from kids who are being their ordinary, cynical, teenage selves.
“To offer a couple examples, if I don’t like math, a lecture in class may be ‘boring’, if I DO like math, I might think a lecture is the most interesting thing I’ve ever heard- how can you reach any concrete or even vague conclusions with information that is all over the board like that? A teacher who has a weight problem may receive a ‘negative’ on the personal appearance question from a student who is athletic, while an overweight student would find absolutely nothing wrong with the teachers’ appearance.
“ … This survey, in my opinion, simply encourages ‘snarkyness’ and would only encourage kids’ worst behaviors. … I don’t need a 16 year old telling me if I’m doing my job well, even anonymously.”
Reading this message, I found myself thinking that teacher responses to this type of research may reveal a great deal about their professional skills. Despite this one teacher’s concerns about teenager “snarkyness,” I found the student responses to be generally thoughtful and was pleased to find few concerned with teacher appearance and most concerned about the effectiveness of the lessons their teachers planned for them.
The original purpose of my professional development project was to learn more about the student point of view regarding classroom management. Not only did the project fulfill its purpose, but it also confirmed my belief in the importance of dialogue with teenagers, who are capable of advising educators.
One insight I gained through this exercise is that a well-designed lesson plan – one that does not rely exclusively upon lecturing — is perhaps the best classroom management plan of all. Another thing I learned from this exercise is the importance of remaining open to student input. If we stop to listen to the students, we will have a better idea of what it is they need in the classroom that will help them learn.
I posted my interview questions as an online survey and asked teachers and parents of my acquaintance to provide high schoolers with a link to the survey: http://tinyurl.com/32mzjs4. These students were from the general populations of six Kansas City metropolitan-area high schools and one junior high. Sixty-seven students responded, and I make no claims for this being a significant sample size;but I thought their responses were intriguing.
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