Although my teaching experience is only in its infancy, I am happy with the overall feedback I have received in my teaching evaluations. My students, over time consistently indicate that they find my class to be organized, and that it is designed in such a manner that the students can easily follow and understand the relevant themes. The knowledge base I provide and the access to information that I bring to all my classes have also been mentioned, on several occasions, across all the classes I have taught. For the most part, students find my class and my methods of teaching interesting and motivating. I consider these consistently made comments to be both positive, and a primary example of my strengths as a teacher.
I have also found consistencies in certain negative comments that students have made in my evaluations. There tends to be a smaller percentage of students in each class I have taught, who find the information they are exposed to in my classes to be, at times overwhelming. Negative comments focus on the amount of readings they are required to do before classes. They also extend, in a few cases, to the focus on strong writing expressed in the grading. This typically results in a disparity between what the students know, and how they are able to explain what they know and apply it during testing. To some extent, I would identify these negative comments, as indicative of my teaching weaknesses.
I have a hard time accepting that the students viewed my expectations for higher quality writing as entirely a failure on my part as a teacher. I do acknowledge that in the beginning, my expectations for the level of student writing I would receive, were much higher than the reality, and this has been something I have adjusted over time. Nevertheless, why I have adjusted my rationale on the quality of student papers, I refuse to adjust my expectations for higher quality writing. In all my classes, assignments had received a dedicated 5 points to grammar. However, as I was teaching political science courses and not writing, that little 5-point category of grammar was clearly mislabeled. Rather than focusing on just the mechanics of writing, I used this section to also focus on clarity of thoughts and organization. The students struggled the most in this area I believe, because they were receiving more comments than the named section indicated. Over time, I stopped commenting so heavily on ‘grammar’ and focused more on the clarity of their ideas. I also added sections to the rubric that addressed the clarity of thoughts in the papers. I found this helped to clear up confusions with grading.
I found that all the changes and adjustments I made to my teaching, all were based on my desire to get them to express themselves clearly. I struggled with helping my students to explain themselves more clearly in their writing, and in getting them to write in more fluid yet structured ways. I thought that perhaps if I cut back on assigned readings and used other mediums of learning such as film, I would be able to help them think more critically, and see connections more clearly than on paper. All my classes took on the use of more films, and on critical discussions, regardless of the level of the undergraduate course. I lectured less, and had more class discussions. I started to incorporate more take home testing, to help with the writing process, and the films discussed in class were used in testing for students to connect to the theory learned. These changed did work, for the most past. Student responses in their assignments showed they were thinking and understanding the material in ways that my earlier classes were not able to do. Class discussions were very robust; I never had a problem with people in class not talking. The one constant struggle I continue to have is working on strengthening writing. I had fewer students missing the ‘mark’, when grading, but on a whole, the quality of the papers were only incrementally improved.
Since these evaluations, I received an Interdisciplinary Teaching Assistantship. This has provided me with an opportunity to learn ways to incorporate writing techniques into non-writing courses. To date, I have learned how to tailor courses to the direct need of its current student demographics, as well as to utilize writing techniques, such as journaling, brainstorming, to creating assignments that are structured based on process oriented writing. Thereby, providing students with better chances to develop their writing, while learning new and complex information within their field of study.