First encounters

21st May 1999 at 01:00
Trainee Richard Davies submits to trial-by-pupils

Call me a masochist, but constructive criticism is something I have come to appreciate as a PGCE student. And the source I value it from most is my pupils. I even get them to write it down.

I decided early on in my first teaching practice to "formalise" my pupils' criticisms so I could benefit from what they thought of me as a teacher. I ran this by a few staff members. Responses ranged from "You're very brave" to "Are you mad?" I pushed ahead with the view that if I cannot take criticism from the pupils then it's a pretty sorry state of affairs. After all, they are the ones who have to "observe" all my lessons; not the select bunch that my mentor or tutor see.

The brief was simple. A plain sheet of rough paper. On one side I wanted comments about the topics: things they've enjoyed, hated, found easy or difficult, with evidence to back it up. Then on the other side: things about me as a teacher - such as style, delivery, clarity. The comments were to be anonymous, and I made a big thing of the evidence bit - they had to justify their views or I wouldn't take much notice.

The comments about me fell into three categories. First, the positive ones. I like these. In fact, I like them so much I may include a section on my CV with them in it.

"I think Mr Davies is mint, because he is cool headed."

"Mr Davies is a good teacher because we all have a good relationship and he is kind and considerate."

"You have good communication with us."

"Mr Davies is very helpful."

These swell the head, massage the ego and, most importantly, boost confidence. It's strange that some of the groups I felt I was battling with the most were the most complimentary.

Then there are the "constructive" criticisms, which I can do something about over the coming lessons and years. Some are easier to remedy than others:

"Mr Davies is not very good because nobody likes him."

"Could you write bigger because I am dyslexic."

"I think you talk too much before we do any work."

"Mr Davies is all right for a teacher, but he cannot shout to save his life."

I am working furiously on these. I have bought some bigger white board pens, appointed a voice coach and joined a dating agency.

Finally, there are the comments that are the most difficult to share in the staffroom. These are the ones comparing you to more established teachers. I've deleted the names to protect the innocent:

"I like your lessons and wish Mrs X's could be like yours."

"I have learnt more from you in five weeks than from Mr X in a year-and-a-half."

I nearly forgot a fourth category, the amusing and bizarre:

"I've not enjoyed earthquakes. Why be a geography teacher? It's so boring."

"I like Mr Davies because he lets us write in whatever colour we want."

"You are a good teacher. You try and keep order while remaining calm. That is a quality in teachers."

"Big Hard Davies is a good teacher but he is teaching a topic I hate."

"He is from an ET Nation, and Mulder and Scully are searching for him."

"I think Mr Davies should give out more fruit to the class."

I feel I have benefited from formalising my classes' thoughts. It has reassured me I am in the right profession and doing the right thing. As one pupil wrote: "I think you should carry on with what you are doing!" So do I. Where's that job application...

Richard Davies is a secondarygeography PGCE student at the University of Sheffield.

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