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What keeps me awake at night - It's a lose-lose situation if students keep score

As if the pressure of having to cater for the foibles of those who regularly observe our lessons is not enough, at our college we have the added pressure of the dreaded annual student survey.

In this, students grade teachers on a variety of areas, such as whether we make them feel "valued" and whether we "cater" for their learning style. Students who never hand in an assignment on time are invited to comment on whether we return assessed work promptly. Those who never open a book unless we stand over them turning the pages must evaluate how good we are at providing suitable reading material.

It works like this: classes are interrupted by the arrival of an administrative assistant who distributes the surveys. She then waits while they are completed, watching closely to ensure that we don't exert any influence on our students to persuade them to rate us as "excellent".

The worst-case scenario is for the survey to arrive in the middle of a lesson when you are in full flow nagging students about their behaviour or work. Then, of course, you haven't a chance of scoring highly: as far as the class is concerned, it's payback time. For those who regard lessons as irritating interruptions to a day that could otherwise be spent in the serious business of socialising, the opportunity to say what they think of their "learning experience" is greeted with glee.

The information is collated, and a league table drawn up and published for all to see. Presented as objective evidence of the quality of one's teaching, and supposedly showing who the "best" teachers are, all it actually does is discourage staff and cause a great deal of resentment.

Whether management can learn anything useful from this exercise is debatable but some students certainly do. A survey of 10 questions in which the words "I" and "me" are repeated 22 times reinforces their conviction that the world is all about them. "Regardless of my own efforts, am I getting what I 'deserve'?," they ask. "If I'm not as successful as I believe I should be, who can I blame?" Teachers, of course.

The writer is a teacher in the Midlands of England.

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