Use Student Surveys (in part) to Measure Our Teaching Effectiveness


A teacher’s stakeholders’ satisfaction with their course is an important measure of instructional effectiveness that is too often overlooked or outright ignored. Of course it’s absurd to hope to satisfy every young adult’s needs and wants equally throughout an academic year, but to endeavor to do so seems a requisite to respecting student voice in the classroom. We educators all know sometimes young adults simply don’t know what they need as well as we often do—our experience, credentials, and wisdom are the sources of a power only we have been fully initiated into; ideally, we use said power to fill the gaps in their knowledge, to advise, and ultimately to predict and instruct what they will need to know to seize opportunities and become a reasonably happy and contributing member of society. It would be simple for me to disregard and ignore the eight students above who were only “somewhat satisfied” with my pedagogy, but really it just inspires me to try additional angles next year to catch the students that seem to fall through the cracks of my lessons.

The above statistic is achievable by all facilitators of educational opportunities, even those who simply aren’t very good at their job. Judging by the flood of students running from public schools in Columbus, OH to Arts & College Preparatory Academy, though, this is a domain many educators fail in. This one measure alone can help teachers develop a reputation as student friendly simply because they make a concerted effort to address and respond to questions, emails, and confused looks with attention, respect, and—not the answers—but a pathway for students to uncover and/or build their own intellectual responses to course content. For me, this is just part and parcel for the profession.

Every project needs to be useful—this means, yes, it covers the content—but, more importantly, educators’ projects should actually be applicable and relevant to real life experiences. The utility of assignments must be explicit and explained—this is “the why” that Simon Sinek talks about in his TED presentation on leadership. Student buy-in increases the more they sense and understand the applicability, the literary usefulness, of our work on the *frontier of freedom (*the classroom, according to LBJ).

The learning in high school happens via the feedback, the suggestions, the advice, the corrections, the explanations, and the help that we facilitate as lead learners, and—this is key—their responsiveness and editing in the face of said criticism. High quality feedback—most notably in their writing—takes time, a lot of time, and is exhausting and sometimes (I prefer to be honest) dull. But pushing myself to comment on their Google Docs until my eyes tear up from staring into a glowing screen is the bayonet to bayonet foxhole fighting of our profession; I am not one to easily roll over and show my belly for the filthy fascist of sloth to jab. No one has to be, really, but the temptation for some is there because—truth be told—few administrators or parents have the temerity to check our work and suggest we aren’t giving diligent enough feedback to students. How would your students assess the quality of your feedback? what does this say about your practice?—as a tip, I paste lots of comments into a Pages document and then use the search bar to bring up reoccurring comments and links to explanations on routine errors like the Ghengis Kahn of punctuation, the comma splice, or the *Stalinesque semi-colon (*not a real thing).

So, yes, as I tell all students who don’t have me in class, but claim to be excited to study with me: I’m overrated. I say this to hopefully lower their expectations, to feign modesty, and as an attempt at humor. I actually think there is something to be said for students having low expectations or even a low opinions of us as, that way, we can Prince Hal-style surprise them by our brilliant educational performance. Apparently, at least one student truly decided my course was all hype. Again, it’s easy to be bummed and wonder how you failed that one young adult, but all it did was make me chuckle and make me want to fix my work with that type of student in subsequent work together. Was it likely the one student I had to fail this year?—probably, yes. Is it my fault they failed?—nope, not a chance; I gave said student more time than just about any other. In the end, sometimes young adults need to see they can’t manipulate their way to a passing score; you get what you earn in my courses and that doesn’t always sit well. So be it. My job isn’t to be loved or liked; it’s to instruct and guide as best as I know how. That said, the above responses reflect my intentions and are one of the best measurements of the success of my work that I have found.

This one is always interesting because my classes are structured differently that most. I don’t do quizzes, lectures, and tests ad nauseam over and over throughout the year. I use projects to guide student inquiry, creative tasks that allow students to show their learning in unique ways like via puppet show or choreographed dance (both had a writing component explaining their artistic choices). After thirteen years at three institutions—Catholic and charter (public schools who have interviewed me have always passed on my talents)—I’m confident my anecdotal evidence proves my way of teaching is superior to bubble tests, rote memorizations and regurgitation worksheets, and uninspired Pearson or McGraw-Hill textbook tasks.

The comments in such surveys are always revealing, blunt, and evoke a grim combination of fear and excitement in me; they make me feel incredibly vulnerable, like a babe televised to the world as a reality show live birth. Yuck, yes, maybe a little, but more beautiful than eww. Author Tom Robbins writes of a character who suggests “There are only two mantras in life: yuck and yum.” That said, here’s the yuck: “too much writing and discussions,” but here’s the yum: “best class ever! keep going above and beyond for the students Mr. Sherman.”

It’s fairly simple to set up your own survey and have students assess you at year’s end (I do this in the middle of the year, too). You don’t need to broadcast your results for the world, but sharing our work as educators is how the next generation of young teachers can eclipse us. May they do so, and may we eclipse our past teaching selves. Yum.

––Aaron Sherman is a facilitator of educational opportunities at Arts & College Preparatory Academy, a charter school, in Columbus, Ohio. He was able to make the leap from teacher-priest at a prestigious Catholic school in Toledo, Ohio to a primarily LGTBQIA, formerly-bullied, and artistic school community without issue because he adapts to fit his students, and not the reverse. He lives and works for his #5Family, and to bring about a better tomorrow today for all those with whom his students interact. You can find him on YouTube sharing everything he knows to all who will listen, one day at a time: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC9al6_jSyNthNs5E3838VOw and on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/aaron-sherman-b776b516/ and on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/Aaron_n_Wndlnd

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