A Cautionary Note About Student Feedback

feedback_icon.jpg(Why not read the nice part about student feedback first?)

But now I’ll put on my skeptic hat, in fact the one I usually wear: while I definitely acknowledge the importance of student feedback, I think there is reason to be cautious in how it is used.

Often times teacher are operating under constraints that students don’t know about, don’t think about, or don’t care about. I don’t mean to imply teachers have no free will, but factors like an impending test connected to the course (or conversely a school policy which instructs teachers not to do in class work that can be done at home such as gap fills) will influence a teacher’s strategy. Many EFL teachers are trained in and expected to use a communicative strategy…but there are plenty of students who think a class that isn’t teacher-centered is just plain wrong. If the school elicits student feedback, it’s reasonable to take these things into account, so students aren’t asked to rate their teacher in areas the teacher is not really able to change.

Teachers usually are “people people” (that’s the plural of “a people person”) and frankly should teach in a way conducive to being more or less liked by their students – especially adult students.

Letting students see your personality and creating a pleasant atmosphere are important tasks of an EFL teacher – but not the only tasks. Feedback can sometimes be more a report of how much students like a teacher as a person, rather than their performance as a teacher. This doesn’t mean feedback shouldn’t be taken – but I do think it should be kept in context.

Finally, my last pet peeve: schools that collect student feedback and then don’t share the results – in some form – with the teachers. Sure, there are reasons not to let teachers pour over the questionnaires themselves, but I think it’s not cool for teachers or students if students give feedback on their teachers, expecting that it will influence something, and the teachers don’t have access to the collective results.

For these reasons, I think schools should take care how they elicit student feedback, and while it’s fair that it may play some role in a teachers overall “success” rating (ideally in combination with observation by an experienced teacher), I would personally be cautious of a situation where a lot of weight is put on that student feedback.