One of my departments has all of its teachers do a really, really smart thing.
About a third of the way into the semester, teachers hand out an anonymous survey to their students. The results are for the teachers’ eyes only, for the sole purpose of getting the lay of the land and seeing if any changes can be made to improve the semester.
The types of questions the department suggests:
- Do students feel they can succeed in this course? What support do they need?
- How is class time going? How could the teacher make it more effective?
- How is homework going? How are the assignments, directions, and deadlines?
- How are major assignments going? Are students prepared in class to complete them? What could be improved?
- Are students getting feedback? Is it understandable? Is it helpful? How could it be improved?
Remember to ask for specifics and for suggestions. They might not all be workable, but at very least they help you see the students’ point of view. Point out that general statements like “this class is too hard” are not useful, especially coming from anonymous sources, because you have no idea what is too hard about it.
Now, with a survey like this comes the fear of negative feedback. What if everyone hates my class? And since this is during the semester, you’d still have to work with a group of people who may have told you you’re not doing as well as you thought.
My advice is: handle it. You’re an ESOL teacher – you’ve handled awkward in the past, and you can handle awkward this semester, too. It’s just not that big a deal.
And the rewards are significant: free professional development, very possibly a topic to present on at the next local ESOL conference, and most importantly, the potential to make a comeback and teach an epic class that really reaches your students.
Even if your department doesn’t nudge you in this direction, give it a try! Don’t wait till next semester to make positive changes!