Trying to reflect on myself
I have until the 30th to complete and submit the self-reflection package that is part of my annual performance evaluation. Last year, I was misguided – the form that I was to fill in had boxes of a certain size, each with room for about four lines of text, and I believed that I was to fill those boxes. As it turns out, that was a wrong assumption. Since the forms were electronic, I was to provide much more in-depth reflection than I did – something like half a page’s worth for each of the questions. The powers-that-be let me know last year that they would let me off just that one time, but this year I had darn well better provide a lot more depth to my reflection.
I had stray peripheral thought – this process was definitely discriminatory against vampires, since they don’t have any reflection.
So I’m supposed to reflect upon the most recent time an administrator made an observation visit to my classroom – which was last year, not this – and upon the comments the administrator made. I can’t remember much, and since last year, my reflection wasn’t deep enough, I don’t know that I can add much depth.
I’m also supposed to reflect upon the most recent batch of student evaluations of my work. At least those are reasonably recent, since they came from the past fall term. But I don’t know that I can really glean much specific from these evaluations. For the most part, my students last fall thought I was doing a good or great job, in issues such as understanding students’ needs, using teaching methods that work with a variety of learning styles, communicating class objectives clearly, being fair to students in grading, and starting and ending class on time. There was one student in one section who disagreed with just about everything … but even though the surveys are anonymous, I think I know who that student is – a fresh-out-of-high school student with a sense of entitlement. That’s part of why I like teaching night classes – I get students who have been out in the real world, and they understand that one has to work in order to earn anything meaningful. The daytime classes I teach are often nightmares – students who, all of their lives, have been given passing grades just for showing up, or for being smart enough to do the work, rather than actually doing it, or being athletes who need to preserve academic eligibility, who believe that “I need to get this grade” is reason enough for me to award it, whether the student has earned it or not.
Not that, in my self-reflection piece, I can get away with characterizing that one detractor in that way. I’m not allowed to dismiss him. I’m supposed to acknowledge that at least one student sees that I have shortcomings, and I should work to overcome said shortcomings. Not that there’s any way I can overcome the shortcoming of refusing to allow “I need a passing grade” as a reason to award a passing grade.
And then we get to the next thing I should reflect on: how well I have met the goals for myself that I set in the last reflection. I don’t remember exactly what I put down as my goals, but it was something pretty vague. I didn’t have any plans to attend any seminars or anything like that. I just put down something like I’d engage in dialogue with my colleagues and also keep tabs on the Internet for new teaching ideas and lesson plans. Well, maybe I can count something positive from those goals. Through a newspaper article, I discovered a wonderful beginning-of-term assignment for my English 0550 students, most of whom are immigrants. The original assignment was aimed at elementary and middle-school students, but with a bit of tweaking, I made it into a really good exercise for my students, “Where I’m From.” It worked out so well that I put it on my blog, and since then, I’ve had educators from all over coming to me for this particular exercise.
Next, I’m supposed to give an explanation, with details, of what I plan to do in the future to improve my ability to teach. I’m supposed to have some specific goals, and a clearly identified plan to accomplish those goals.
I’m looking at the Corporate Curmudgeon column from the Albuquerque Journal, Thursday, May 22, 2008. The Curmudgeon, Dale Dauten, is commenting about how college students fudge, and often outright lie, on job applications and in interviews. They get asked questions such as “Give me an example of a problem you faced and how you faced it.” According to Dr. Julia Levashina, an employment expert that Dauten interviewed, “The students believe that ‘I don’t have an example’ is unacceptable, so they have to make something up.”
That’s how I feel about this reflection piece. Yeah, I’m supposed to make some reflections about my goals for the coming year. But really, I don’t have any goals. I just want to keep on doing what I’m doing. I know I’m good at it. This term, I began as usual by explaining that I was once a non-traditional student, like many of my students, with a husband and a small child and a 100-mile commute to class, and if I could do it (BA Magna cum Laude from UNM), so could they. I actually had a couple of students come up to me during the mid-class break and hug me – they said they found in me a role model.
So no, I’m not going to fudge some answer just to have an answer. My plan is just to keep doing more of the same. Yes, I’ll keep alert to the Internet and to colleagues and to newspaper articles for ideas for new lesson plans. But I am just not interested in any “above and beyond” stuff. That’s for university tenure-track folk, not for “it’s about students” community college instructors.