With a new year starting, we have many new beginnings. We make resolutions; our city government changes; and many students start a new semester.
As a teacher, preparing for new classes gives me the opportunity to look back at past semesters and evaluate what worked and what didn’t so I can make changes to improve my classes. One source of information is the course evaluations both I and the university have my students fill out. I can find out what students thought worked well and what they needed more help with.
To help me remember my own ideas, I often make notes throughout the semester about something that worked particularly well or about how to change an assignment or my instruction.
Once I have all this feedback, I find it challenging to make the changes. It’s hard to redo assignments and try new teaching methods as this takes time and effort. However, the improvement I see in my students’ understanding and engagement in the class is worth the work.
Another challenge in this process is dealing with negative feedback. I don’t like to be criticized, but it’s important to determine if the student’s concern is valid or if they’re just complaining because they didn’t get the grade they wanted. Even when students seem to just be complaining, I can generally find something in their complaints to help me improve my teaching. Maybe I need to explain my expectations more clearly or maybe I need to provide a greater variety of examples to help them understand the assignment.
At this time of year, many of us make New Year’s resolutions. Coming up with goals is difficult, but we could use the same process I use in teaching. We can look back on what worked well in the last year and what needs to be changed to help us make our goals for this year.
One of the hardest things about New Year’s resolutions is to keep working on them. I tend to make my resolutions, but then I forget about them until the beginning of the next year. In my classes, I have a built-in time for evaluation at the end of every semester. We could do the same with our resolutions and set times to review how we are doing and what we could improve on to meet our goals.
But only doing evaluations at the end of each semester is not always enough. I have started having students do self-evaluations halfway through the semester in some classes, which helps them and me see how things are going, and make changes before the class is over. We should make sure the times we set up to check our progress on goals should be often enough to keep us on track.
Columbus has a new beginning this year with a new mayor and some new city council members. I hope they have been looking back and deciding what worked and what didn’t work, so that our community can improve by working together effectively.
Listening to feedback from the community will be important, too, even if it is negative or critical. Complaints can help our community leaders see what isn’t working or what needs more attention. Regular times to evaluate progress towards goals should also be a part of our city government’s plan.
Whether we are starting new classes, making resolutions, or beginning new responsibilities, we can follow the process of reflecting on what has worked in the past and what needs improvement, making goals and then regularly getting feedback and evaluating our progress.
Susan Cox is one of The Republic’s community columnists, and all opinions expressed are those of the writer. She is a mother, an adjunct instructor of English at Ivy Tech Community College-Columbus and a substitute teacher for Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. She can be reached at email@example.com.