Let your pupils do the talking

20th October 2000 at 01:00
ACCORDING to The TES, you can now buy, for pound;2,000, an on-line kit that helps you assess your own teaching through pupil evaluations. Part of the process is to ask five pupils what they think of you. The data is then matched against national norms.

I hope people will be able to cope with the consequences.

Putting oneself through the shredder always sounds like a good idea if someone else is doing it.

"What do you think of me, Jason?".

"You're crap, sir."

"Er, thank you."

I am in favour of sensible self-evaluation using pupil feedback when appropriate. Indeed, I have just completed a series of eight books on different aspects of classroom skills in primary and secondary schools in which pupil feedback is a significant element. So I do not want to knock the idea itself. It just needs to be undertaken with caution.

"Self-confrontation" as it is known, is a delicate matter.

Done well it is illuminating and will help teachers improve. Badly-handled and it can be psychologically devastating.

The reason is quite simple. In fields such as education, health, social work and public service, people spend their lives working to improve the lot of humanity.

This assignment is open-ended and the achievements of any single individual is limited. There will never be a moment when you can state that you've got it licked and nothing more needs to be done.

Survival in these circumstances involves persuading yourself that you are doing a decent job, because otherwise you might as well hang up your boots. The problem is that too much self-satisfaction leads to complacency, too little to dismay and alienation. It is hard to strike a working balance between celebration and flagellation.

Looking in the mirror and confronting yourself is not as simple and adult as it may appear. "Hello, ugly bugger" sounds like the grown-up thing to do if the eventual outcome is judicious self-improvement, but not if it is looking into the vodka bottle.

As for "matching yourself against national norms", this too appears to have a seaing logic about it, on the surface at least, but national norms are insensitive to the detailed context in which people work and so may contain more image than substance. And who wants to be "average", kept under constant temperature and pressure in a glass case, probably without air holes, as the "standard British teacher"?

I have decided to set up a rival enterprise, offering a cheaper version of the 2,000-quid one. Just find five pupils and ask them the following questions:

When I come into the room, does my opening remark always begin with some variation of "Right..."? (national norm: 93.6 per cent)

How often do I say "er" in each lesson, (and don't pretend you can't answer because I know you run a book on it)? (national norm: 75 times, British all-comers' record 542)

List my three most irritating phrases. (national winners: "You can behave like that if you like, but don't expect anybody to offer you a job" and "That's so easy my three-year-old can do it")

What is my most pathetic joke? (national winner: "Has a spider written this?")

What do you make of the remarks I write on your school report? (national norm in 1979: "satisfactory progress"; national norm in 1999: "Samantha is making satisfactory progress")

What are your thoughts on the way I dress? (national norms: "Just like my grandmagranddad", 58 per cent; "We particularly admire your Hush Puppies", 26 per cent; "I too support the local Oxfam shop whenever possible", 11 per cent; "Nice elbow patches", 5 per cent)

What are my inter-personal relationships with pupils like? (national norm: "We call you Genghis")

How do I distribute my time? (national norms: "You manage to get around everybody to check on progress", 28 per cent; "Crawling to the head to get a performance bonus", 72 per cent)

Is there anything I can do to improve your learning? (national norms: "Legalise morphine", 86 per cent; "Turn up", 14 per cent).

Send a mere fiver and we at www.money-for-old-rope.co.uk will offer a complete pupil feedback kit for every occasion.

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