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A long time ago as part of completing my undergraduate degree in Education I had to spend an entire semester student teaching. My first eight week placement was in a fourth grade classroom. The second eight weeks I divided my time between teaching eighth grade math and seventh grade language arts. At the end of my experience I had the idea to ask my middle school aged students to evaluate me. I know, you are probably thinking You did what???
For those who may not know this, middle school students is brutal. They are in the middle of strange growth spurts with their arms, legs, feet, facial hair, sweat glands, skin and voices. Plus, they are trying to find their niche – where they fit in at school. They are sensitive, but don’t want you to think they are. They think they are cool, but inside are sometimes confused. They tend to hold grudges, especially when they or their friends have been wronged. Are these really the people you want to answer questions about your strengths and weaknesses as their teacher over the past eight weeks? If you answered NO, then congratulations, you knew something that I did not way back then. If you answered YES, then you are just as naïve as I was.
I was going through boxes that I never opened when we move from an apartment to a condo eleven years ago. Since we moved last year it has been my goal to go through every single box and purge, purge, purge because I do not want to turn into one of those people you see on television whose stuff has taken over their life. In one of those boxes I discovered materials from college, specifically my last stressful semester spent student teaching. For some reason I hung onto those evaluations from those middle school students. Each teen had scrawled their thoughts on a 3 by 5 index card. Rather than pitching them into the trash, (I temporarily got distracted from my purging goal) I began to read because I was curious. It was so long ago I couldn’t remember the faces that went with the names. I barely remember the lessons I taught. In case you didn’t know, student teaching is intense. It saps your energy. I ran on fumes, churning out lesson plans while trying to figure out how to get a job and when to send out resumes. My thoughts were consumed with questions like Does my cooperating teacher like me? Do the students like me?
On the evaluations from my middle school students I asked them to answer the following three questions:
1. What did you learn in class this while I was your teacher?
2. What did you like about the way I taught?
3. Do you have any suggestions for improvement?
Yea, I know. I set myself up for the third question. So, what did these young people who I was forced to spend the day with for eight weeks to earn my degree have to say about me?
One student wrote: Be nice to students unless they are out of control. Another student wrote: You always had a sweet voice and a smile on your face even when no one was cooperating. Well, that makes me sound like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I guess I cannot please everyone all the time.
One student wrote at the bottom of his card: P.S. I would keep this card if I were you because I am going to be famous one day. Then he signed his name. I Googled his name but did not find it. I guess it hasn’t happened yet.
One student was very honest. He wrote: I liked it when you helped me with problems, even though I did not want to listen. How refreshing.
I had one student give me advice! She wrote: Remember, what is right is not always popular, and hat is popular is not always right. Thanks a bunch! Hmmm, I never saw myself as Ms. Popularity although it is nice when people acknowledge when I am right.
One of my lessons for English class involved using details in writing. A student wrote: You have taught me to be outrageously detailed and very specific.
Another student reflected on his own actions (at such a young age.) The only thing I didn’t like was all the late minutes we got. But that was mostly our fault. Now if only I could get me children to reflect like that!
A student wrote: I learned how to keep my mouth shut when you or others are talking. I was hoping he would mention a math topic. Oh well. Then he went on to write: I really liked when you gave us candy and you even gave me candy when I was being bad. All I can say in my defense is that everyone makes mistakes because I do not like to reward bad behavior.
Another student wrote: You smile too much. But then she went on to write: You are very hip and cool, too! Just for the record, I dress for myself, not for students. And i already knew I was cool.
Stay tuned. That was only a smattering of comments. I’ll have a second installment out in a future post sharing more musings from former middle school students.