Reflecting Back for Projecting Forward
We all know that the end of the semester is the time to assess our students’ learning and acquired abilities. With any luck, you may have approached your semester from the perspective of Backward Design and built your course around carefully selected learning goals. But what about assessing your own growth and learning as an instructor? How can we evaluate ourselves and our own teaching progress?
Perhaps you have already administered your own end-of-the-semester evaluations. If you have, great! If you haven’t, it’s not too late! The free website www.surveymonkey.com is easy to use and emailing a link isn’t so hard either. These evaluations can be helpful as a summary of student reactions to the course – and to you as an instructor. Ask students to rate, rank, or somehow assess a few of the approaches you’ve used to enhance their learning. What students like isn’t as important as what's helping them learn. Sometimes they forget that. Sometimes we do too. For sample evaluation forms, see Appendix D of our Becoming Teachers handbook.
Type out a summary of your students’ comments and be careful to avoid focusing on the extremes. While one student might suggest that your sections are akin to pedagogical waterboarding, another student might want to continue attending your office hours over the summer to bask in the glow of your genius. Don’t let the hyperboles drown out the more balanced and reasonable comments. If you write up a summary, every voice will be heard and you’ll see that the polarized evaluations are far less important than the many moderate ones. Bonus hint! Make copies of all of your evaluations and keep them on ﬁle. Evaluations are often an important part of your teaching portfolio.
In addition to your students’ perspective on how the course went, take a moment to reflect on your own thoughts and feelings about the semester. Did you experiment with anything new? How did it go? Looking back, what would you do differently? What techniques did you use that were effective for student learning? Jot down your thoughts and experiences in one place... a “teaching journal” of sorts. This gives you a single place to generate ideas, troubleshoot problems, and reflect on your own successes and struggles as a budding teacher – an invaluable resource when planning future courses and creating a teaching portfolio. You might even be able to use an anecdote or two in your Teaching Statement. The experiences you reflect on now just might be the stories you will tell when you are interviewing for a job. In case you’re not convinced, or for more tips, tricks, and recommendations on keeping a teaching journal, see this gradhackerblog post.
Basking in the NOW
While you wrap your mind around the mental exercise that is looking backward and forward at the same time, give your neck a break and focus your attention and awareness on the here and now. Experience the sensations that come with the end of another semester – without regret for the past or worry for the future. Congratulate yourself for surviving another year and remember that making it to this point is a success unto itself!
CONGRATULATIONS TO THE CLASS OF 2013!