One of the most valuable lessons that teachers can learn is how to evaluate their own pedagogical performances – lesson-by-lesson, day-by-day. This is one of the best ways to improve our instruction, allowing our students to benefit from our efforts. However, I am the first to admit that it can be difficult to do, even painful, especially when we have convinced ourselves that the lessons we have prepared are nothing short of amazing and should literally change our students’ lives.
When and how should self-evaluation happen? Simply put, it must happen immediately and it must be done carefully. Throughout my career as an English teacher, there have been many times when I prepared what I believed to be thought-provoking questions related to the works of literature that I planned to cover with my students during a given lesson. I gleefully imagined that asking my students these questions would lead to a lively discussion, during which so many students would want to offer insight that they would respectfully interrupt each other, and we would run out of time before all students would be able to offer their input. Nevertheless, there were times when my imagination was reluctantly introduced to reality and I was met with silence and blank stares from my students.
This happened quite frequently when I was a first-year teacher, and when it did, I sat with myself at the end of the day and felt defeated and inadequate. I shuttered at the thought of returning the next day to face my students, thinking that they would point out my shortcomings and view me as a failure. I quickly learned that the thoughts about a teacher’s performance are ephemeral in the minds of students.
If I had been smart enough to assess what went wrong while the lessons were fresh in my mind, perhaps the same day or even the day after, I may have been able to discover the true culprit behind the lessons falling short of my standards and could have saved myself some angst. If I had been brave enough to try the ineffective lessons a second time, I may have been able to transform what I had imagined into successful realities, providing for my students those moments of epiphany when the silence becomes a glorious cacophony known as an engaging discussion, and their blank stares become twinkles that indicate excitement and understanding.
After more than 20 years of teaching, there are still times when lessons do not unfold as I imagine during the planning stage. The difference now is that I respond in a more productive way.
Instead of viewing myself and my students as helpless victims of a failed lesson, I use such occurrences as motivation to do more research, to consult my colleagues – and yes, to consult my students about ways to improve.
But first, I sit with myself – the same day, if possible – and analyze every aspect of the lesson that fell flat and brainstorm about what I can do to make it better for my students, because with teaching, like with many other aspects of our lives, we must sometimes look back in order to see how to best move forward.
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