This is a research school and that's the top priority, but my teaching evals have to improve too. They did improve from my first to second year, but it's clear that they need to improve more to be with the "masses." Like Mathematical Hologram, I've had social issues since I was a kid. I've worked hard on improving myself, making eye contact, etc. but it's an uphill climb. I bring in 1-2 observers from the teaching center every year. (Yes, I've asked several doctors about Asperger's, and all say I don't have it.)
I teach a relatively dry methods class, which has two sections: The morning section's students participate less, rarely laugh at my jokes or even at funny videos, and just generally like me less than the afternoon kids. The afternoon section are less smart and hard working, but they participate more, and from what they wrote on the anonymous midterm evaluations, they like me a great deal.When I asked about the best parts of the class, the afternoon section wrote stuff like:
- "Thank you for your passion and enthusiasm on the topic. The material is uninteresting to me, but your positive attitude and jokes keep me interested and make me want to try."
- "Like the teaching style & enthusiasm."
- "Like your energy."
- "Examples we can relate to."
- "Dr. Penny and her personality."
- "Teacher is concise and in control, a quality that (sadly) few teachers have." (I'd consider this my weakest point, so maybe this is anonymous flattery.)
- "It's obvious you enjoy teaching."
I mention this because these are the best midterm evals I've had so far. (This is my third year of teaching.) On the other hand, the morning section's evals were decent but not effusive. Both sections had complaints: My slides are unattractive and too wordy, some of the examples weren't relevant to them and we should have more activities and videos/less lecture. (They're used to videos from other classes.)
In an attempt to address their feedback, I decided to review a difficult topic using a well known game show suggested in Tools for Teaching. I spent hours preparing this that I probably should have spent on research. I divided the class up into groups, and each got to choose an easier or harder question (worth more or less money) in a category. I gave them a handout with the major terms defined, and they could consult that. The winning groups received candy bars, but nothing they said was being graded. The morning section that's usually so cold and quiet did well and loved it. The afternoon section kept choosing hard questions, getting them wrong and complaining that the $400 questions in some categories were easier than others. (That's true for the real game show too!) Or they complained that my hint to one group was "better" than the one for others and they should get the points back. They're usually cheerful and say goodbye to me as they leave for the weekend, but they didn't do it that day. If I were smarter socially, I would have anticipated that seeing negative dollar values next to their group numbers would upset them.
Yes, I know the story about flakes and this generation being special.I'm sure I'll be called a snowflake enabler, but I can't afford to lose the good ratings from the afternoon section because of this game show issue, especially when we're about to get into more difficult material.
Q: Does anyone have any advice on what to do to make the afternoon section feel better about themselves?
We all know they'll blame my teaching for not doing well at the game show. FYI: I am very strict on excused absences (documentation required) and on assignment deadlines. So I wouldn't call myself lenient. However, classes in my subject tend to be "fluffy," so I have to provide some videos and activities to avoid suffering by comparison.