We learned. We did learn, in a spirit of vengefulness: we would give Mr. Erskine no excuses.  There was nothing he wanted more than to get a foot on each of our necks–well, he would be denied the pleasure, if possible.  What we really learned from him was how to cheat.  It was difficult to fake the mathematics, but we spent many hours in the late afternoons cribbing up out translations of Ovid from a couple of books in Grandfather’s library–old translation by eminent Victorians, with small print and complicated vocabularies.  We would get the sense of the passage from these books, then substitute other, simpler words, and add a few mistakes, to make it look as if we’d done it ourselves.  Whatever we did, though, Mr. Erskine would slash up our translations with his red pencil and write savage comments in the margins. We didn’t learn much Latin, but we learned a great deal about forgery.“1

Like the female protagonist reflecting on her prepubescent experience with her and her sister’s live-in tutor in @MargaretAtwood‘s The  Blind Assassin, I wonder how much our students learn from our classes is unintentional (and sometimes undesired) knowledge or skill.  Are we cognisant of what our actions, off-the-cuff remarks and non-verbal communication models to our students?  It’s easy to overlook the impact of these important forms of communication.  We are models, not all of the fashionable kind.

If we hope our students accept, reflect on and build from our feedback, should we not seek and welcome feedback given to us?  I think so.

If we want our students to be autonomous, collaborative and active learners, should we not demonstrate that by our own example?  I think so.

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1Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin (New York: Doubleday, 2000), 164.

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10 Responses to We are models, a post thanks to @MargaretAtwood

  1. Hi Ty,

    I am not sure I am the best person to comment, because I can be the odd one… At least from what I see around here in Recife. As far as welcoming feedback, people seem to have the idea that good feedback is the one where people only say the great things you’ve done. Any mention to something you can work on is interpreted as a personal accusation of not being good enough. And I’m not talking only about class observation. I think it has to do with confidence in your own teaching and competence in it. Self-confidence.

    Personally, I like feedback. I am confident enough in myself as a teacher to know I have much to learn and improve still and yet understand that doesn’t mean I am not good as I am. So I love getting feedback about lessons, presentations, activities, anything. Because it will most likely help me improve.

    So maybe school should invest in building the teacher’s self-confidence??

    Btw, I agree with you that we have to be the examples. It’s the same as with your own children. You have to set the example. How can I tell my child to drink juice at a meal if I drink soda? (thinking out loud here)
    X
    Ceci

    • seburnt says:

      I see what you mean about less confident teachers receiving feedback defensively when formally done, like through mandatory classroom observations, but I’m also considering the feedback you get when sharing your pedagogical ideas or lesson plans with colleagues too. Maybe you’re right though, anyone afraid to share is a person who feels either possessive or insecure or both.

  2. You’ve hit an interesting nerve, here, Tyson. Merci !

    In college I would note the “off things” a few of my college professors would say. Now 10 years later, I wonder how they would react if I sent them a few “juicy” ones… I have a feeling they wouldn’t accept “old” and critical feedback, but man… there were some lively quotes in there, and honestly, it’s feedback that I’m sure many of the SS would’ve wished they’d given !

    I welcome feedback and yet can be sensitive to it as the first critical feedback I ever received was tough. I had just started teaching larger groups, mostly europeans who were on homestay in LA (more of a dynamic and challenging group than I had been used to).

    I was super busy at the time, teaching 4 hours in the AM, and then working 8 hours as a cook in the evening. I only had 3 full days off in 2-months time, but I needed the $ and enjoyed what I was doing despite being pretty tired.

    A students said “Class is boring and I don’t feel I’m learning very much… it was fun at first, Brad, but now we keep doing the same kind of thing”. The feedback was “live” and in front of the other 8 students.

    Tough… especially because it was honest feedback and probably pertinent feedback. All the same, I literally didn’t have the time/energy to prepare for class like I normally do (or did at the start of that class). So, for me it’s a bit of the “once bitten, twice shy” syndrome. Later during my career, I would invite feedback but in different ways, and mostly written. I feel better about it now, and think it’s an important dialogue with SS.

    We need to make sure that we are willing to hear and to change according to what we hear from our SS (if their feedback is pertinent, of course). Otherwise, there’s not much point to empower them by seeking feedback and then not follow through. That’s of course assuming that we seek feedback mid-way through a course. Otherwise, if it’s the last class, it might help the next class (and be useful for SS expression), but it’s not really very beneficial to those expressing the feedback.

    Cheers, Brad

    • seburnt says:

      Harsh situation, Brad! I remember I’d hear a student say “This is boring” and retorted with a lesson plan about what boring means and the title of it was “Is it boring or are you boring?”. Haha. Sometimes students don’t bring enough to the lesson themselves and feel everything should be spoon-fed to them. Being treated like a baby would be boring, but if that’s what I have to work with, then…

      You bring an interesting angle though as when I wrote this post, I hadn’t specifically thought about feedback from students about your classes specifically (though that conclusion makes perfect sense from the meaning of the post). Wanting feedback from colleagues or observers was where I initially was going with it.

      Interesting though in both yours and Ceci’s replies there was little reference to teachers’ roles as learners outside of feedback and adjustment. To demonstrate good learning skills, teachers ought to show that they are learning too, by directly demonstrating that they don’t know everything, but they too seek new knowledge (like enroling in a Masters program…). =)

      • Or getting into a delta ;-)

        • or learning their students’ native tongue, and sharing a bit of role reversal.

          Honestly, I’ve never worked in an environment where there was feedback from other teachers. At best, there was a bit of dialogue with teachers with whom I jived well. For my 3 years in China, once a semester a chinese colleague would come to class, and it was always “jeter des fleurs” 拍马屁 = FLATTERY([fr]throwing of applause flowers/[chinese]patting your horse’s bum)

          I’ve had more exchange and feedback in 6 months online than I did in 6 years directly in the educational environment. So be it. Merci 4 ze dialogue, Ty !

          • seburnt says:

            You’re right–social media does provide a more convenient platform for peer feedback, which is just as valuable as having the dialogue with f2f colleagues. Still, in an ideal world, we’d all welcome and have the opportunity to be observed by colleagues for this purpose too. Some would just need to get over our egos.

  3. Very interesting angle to think about!

    I find student feedback usually comes from their behavior / diffuculties or successes in class rather than in a direct verbal form.
    The trick is to discern when reactions such as lack of attention come from the fact that the activity is not engaging enough (or suitable) for the pupil or stems from reasons entirely unrelated to the classroom. I’ve had experiences where I’ve tailored an exercise for a specific pupil (say, all the sentences relate to his favorite topic of frogs) and yet the pupil reacted with disinterest that turned out to be reflecting events that occured in the pupil’s home the night before.
    Tricky business but their reactions deserve our careful attention!
    Thanks for bringing this up!

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