November 9th, 2015

It’s Not Me, It’s You: Coping with Student Resistance

By:

Bored student

A little before the middle of each semester, I ask my students to fill out an anonymous one-minute paper to indicate what they would like to “stop, start, or continue” in my course. I like to think I am a good teacher, and good teaching, it is generally acknowledged these days, asks us to reflect on our teaching, scrutinize our teaching, and challenge our assumptions about teaching. We’re also encouraged to ask for and be responsive to student feedback.

But lately, I have found this to be a difficult and demoralizing exercise. While I can predict most of the comments, and the fact that they often contradict one another (“More group work,” “I don’t like group work!”; “Your lectures are too long!”, “You don’t lecture enough!”), I never expect the comments that are highly critical and sometimes nasty. “This course should be scrapped,” “I can’t stand being here,” and so on.

What was I thinking? That everyone would like me, love the material, and “get” the way I teach? Well, yes. That’s exactly what I was thinking.

Sensible people have told me to be objective. And it’s true that when I consider the classroom objectively, I can see that a perfect synergy with every student is unlikely. But I wish for it anyway, because I find it impossible to maintain the objectivity required to not let it bother me. As an active participant in the classroom relationship, I find the process of teaching and learning an intensely subjective experience. I can no more be objective about it than I can about my relationship with my closest family members. When a student says he or she doesn’t like my course, or worse, me, it hurts. And so when I receive negative feedback, I fixate on it to the point that it obliterates the majority of the positive feedback I receive. I run the negative comments around in my head like a hamster on its exercise wheel, sometimes for weeks, wondering what I’ve done wrong and trying to figure out how to fix things.

Cognitive psychology reminds us, though, that not everything is about us. If I am honest, I have to admit that to some degree my obsessive attention to negative feedback is essentially narcissistic because it means I think I control the teaching and learning dynamic entirely—that a student’s learning, engagement, and even happiness are entirely my responsibility. When I am able to step back and look at my classroom in a broader perspective, I can see that I teach in a context that often breeds student dissatisfaction, entitlement, and a lack of interest—and this context is out of my direct control.

Nearly 20 years ago, Neil Postman warned in The End of Education that education was being replaced by “schooling,” a means whereby learning becomes deeply embedded in a capitalist structure that values knowledge only for its industrial utility. In other words, education is a means to an end—getting a job—rather than an ongoing process at the heart of culture.

It’s within this context that some students have come to see education as no more than a deliverable—one that they have paid for dearly. The fact that many students accept this paradigm is made evident every day in both their comments and behavior. For instance, some students may think that pedagogical deviation from hard facts and skills is simply a waste of time. Some may even go so far as to abdicate all responsibility for learning anything, because, after all, they’ve paid for it, and as practiced consumers they are used to getting what they want as long as they lay down the cash.

However, I am a teacher not only because I love learning for its own sake, but also because I also believe in the transformative power of education for both individuals and society. Consequently, some students and I may hold conflicting values, and this conflict can reveal itself in student resistance, hostility, or (in the worst cases) failure.

Teaching and learning is a process that takes place between people, and as such, all participants in that process have roles and responsibilities. I think we tend to know this intellectually, but our beliefs and behavior often ignore this knowledge.

I have decided to refashion my thinking around the problem of challenging feedback and difficult students and rightfully abdicate some responsibility by acknowledging my role and my limits. My job is to teach; it is the students’ job to learn—and I can’t make them if they don’t want to.

This doesn’t mean I will not do my best to teach well. It doesn’t mean that I will not reflect on my teaching, accept criticism, continue to learn about teaching, or work to make meaningful connections with my students. It does mean, however, that I will not abandon my values and provide customer service in the place of education to satisfy the wants of consumer culture. I think it will help me as a teacher to acknowledge that it’s not always my fault when a student is bored or confused or fails to succeed. And telling these students the truth will help them in the long run. It’s good to remind them that their mind-sets also affect classroom experiences and outcomes. To say clearly: “It’s not me, it’s you.”

Nicola Winstanley is program coordinator of media foundation at Humber College in Toronto.


  • Robert McConkie

    Thanks for the reminder that it's a shared responsibility.

    I include in my syllabus the statement "You'll get more from this class if: (1) You make friends, (2) You enjoy writing and are willing to give feedback, and (3) You check campus web for any updates." (Thus, in a soft way, I admit in writing that part of what students get out of the class depends on them.)

    • Jim

      Robertrt, those ideas seem good. But do they really read your syllabus?

      • Robert McConkie

        Your question makes me smile.
        On the one hand, there is a large number of "downloads" of my syllabus. That would make me think that they are reading it.

        On the other hand, I get questions that suggest they don 't know what's in the syllabus.

        I can try…

  • kathryn

    Thank you, Nicola, for this timely realistic piece.
    It resonates for me as I strive to improve, innovate and motivate throughout the term and then occasionally read comments similar to those you suggested at the end in evaluations.
    Yes, thick skin and the Postman distinction between education and schooling do help. I also remember what I was like as a student sometimes. Not always ideal! Thanks again.
    Regards from Montreal,
    Kathryn

  • Nancy Pelley

    If transformative learning is the objective, it is likely your feedback will be lacking positivity, especially in the middle of the semester. Transformative learning is uncomfortable, but it is a necessary uncomfortable that can result in incredible learning.

    Keep up the great work, Nicola!

  • Arti Kumar

    Like Robert, I include 'tips on making the most of this course' – but I draw this and other ground rules partly from discussion with students about developing the behavioural competencies that will enable them to be(come) more effective and productive in their studies, work and life in general. I share these broader aims explicitly and show the real life relevance of engaging with the interactive and collaborative learning methods and assignments, in terms of better learning but also employability and life beyond university.

    So if the main aim is to enable learning, why don't we evaluate student learning rather than teacher-centric teaching? I have created tailored evaluations for specific modules, which elicit self-assessment and feedback on the extent to which each student has engaged and developed. I find that students appreciate these as part of the learning process, and this type of feedback gets them to evaluate themselves as learners rather than teachers as teachers. Of course they also have opportunities to comment on course and assessment content, but they don't tend to pass subjective comments about teaching.

  • Solid truths expressed here. I'd like to add that once I started teaching my students how to make their dislikes into constructive action statements, the comments I got from them on feedback improved dramatically. For example, "I hate lecture" may actually be a student with a hearing challenge, ADHD, or be under considerable stress and unable to focus. If the student learns to say, "I hate lecture because I can't keep up with notes. You talk too fast!" I then know the student may need help in learning note taking skills, and that uploading my classroom Power Points after the class can help the student then reconstruct the key points of the lecture when at home and studying. In the end, they got what they needed to be better students, and I got feedback that didn't make me feel like failure.

    • Robert McConkie

      The extra clarification of why they hate lectures is good–thanks for the example.

  • cynthiaalby

    Thank you for this. It is just what I needed to hear today. It is good to know that others also take student comments perhaps a bit too much to heart.

  • Nicola Winstanley

    Thank you so much–that's a really interesting point! Yes, I do feel that when we're really prodding them out of their comfort zone and it's truly having an effect we can get push back.

  • Gonzalo Munevar

    It is your responsibility to ensure that learning takes place. For it makes little sense to say "he is a great teacher but his students just don't learn in his classes," or "she is a lousy teacher but his students learn more in her classes than in any other." You teach well when you get your students (generally) to learn. There will always be exceptions, but if most students in your classes don't learn, you are not teaching well. Whether they like you or not is a completely different issue. Remember The Paper Chase? Most students probably hated Kinsgfield, but most of them probably thought he was the best professor they ever had at Harvard Law School. Worry about the quality of the work you get out of your students and skip the midterm "how you feel" feedback.

    • Nicola Winstanley

      I'm so sorry, but I disagree and I think perhaps you misunderstand my point. Of course it is necessary for teachers to teach well and for learning to happen–but it is not entirely a teacher's responsibility. How can it be?

      Also, in my experience, teachers that are not liked do not help their students to learn because they turn the students off; the students won't come to class and they will abdicate all responsibility for failure because they have a "horrible teacher."

      Further, the midterm feedback is not intended as "how you feel"; the question is specifically, "how can help you learn better in this class"; I wouldn't be so stupid to be asking them if they liked me! But yet, they conflate the two things . . . and there's the problem.

      • Gonzalo Munevar

        I don't think I misunderstand. Of course you don't ask them "how they feel," but that is what they almost inevitably turn it into, as you yourself point out. The way to solve the problem is not to waste your time doing the exercise, unless your school forces you to (mine does). At the end of the semester we also have the student evaluations, which are completely unreliable as well. Even on objective questions the answers depend on how much students like you. One question in our form concerns whether I kept my office hours. I remember one year in which I was teaching three sections of the same course and they all had the same office hours. I never missed one minute of office hours that year. Nevertheless the mean average varied wildly, depending on how well I got along with the different sections.
        The problem of students not doing the work or not coming to class because they don't like the professor is very easy to solve. I make attendance mandatory and require that students read the material very carefully and come to class prepared to discuss it. When I taught philosophy or literature, the first half of the class session I would take answers to my questions from students who had their hands up. The second half I would begin to call on people who had said nothing so far. If a student failed to come prepared a couple of times on a row, I would talk to him after class and give him two choices: come prepared from then on or drop my class. Few ever dropped the class. The great majority improved considerably for the rest of the semester. I hardly ever had to fail a student. Indeed many students did quite well. And not a few discovered that they had potential and changed their ways not only in my class but in most of their other classes as well. As a professor you can make it difficult for your students not to learn.
        I was able to achieve similar results in math classes as well by forcing them to pay attention. How? After explaining how to do a certain kind of proof, for example, I would turn around and ask a student at random to explain the same thing to another. Or I would have them vote on whether they agree with my explanation, and then asked the different parties for their reasons to agree, disagree, or sit on the fence. Instead of collecting homework and returning it a couple of weeks later, making feedback useless, I would have 20 students come up to the boards at the beginning of class and write their solutions, simultaneously. I would then go over the problems in front of the class. Instant feedback for them. And for me. If there were weak points I would go over them again, and have the class do exercises of that type right then and there before moving on. Before I took this approach my grades used to be a rough bell curve with the mean around C+. Teaching this other way, 70% of the students would get over 90% of the answers right, and it came to the point that 50% started acing my tests. So I introduced really hard bonus problems. It was not unusual for several students to get 120 out of 100 points. I just made it very difficult for them not to be on top of the material.
        I had similarly rewarding experiences teaching evolutionary biology, neuroscience, and psychology, but I will spare you the details.
        Incidentally, in 40 years of teaching I had bad student evaluations only a couple of times. Normally they were good. At times I even had perfect scores. So my remarks about them are not prompted by sour grapes. They are irrelevant and misleading. And dangerous if the administration takes them seriously.

        • Midge Elkins

          Gonzalo
          What would you consider valuable feedback for a professor? I work at 2 universities and there is something to what you say about the student evaluations as not being very reliable. But what could we use as educators to elicit a response from our students to improve our communication with students and thus be able to have an engaged student population?
          Thanks
          Midge Elkins

  • Melissa Hudler

    Nicola,

    I too ask my students to respond to the S-S-KD questions. However, I make sure to include the following at the top of the handout: "Please assist me in providing the most engaging, effective, and relevant learning experience for you by responding honestly and thoughtfully to the items below. I will consider all responses and suggestions that are mature, appropriate, and sincerely offered and that allow me to maintain the integrity of this course and its goals." Before my students fill out the survey, I emphasize this message and give examples of the kind of comments that would be useless to the purpose of the survey. I also assure them that we will discuss the most common meaningful comments and how I plan to address the issues conveyed in those comments. I assume this has been working because I haven't received such comments–always to my surprise because there's always "that" student. Maybe emphasizing the kind of comments needed and giving examples of the completely useless kind would be an effective pre-emptive strategy for you. Good luck, and thank you so much for the honest and valuable reflection.

    • Midge Elkins

      Melissa
      Could you tell me what S-S-KD questions are? I like to survey my class as well to see what it is maybe I am missing or perhaps they feel the lack of importance to one or two topics. I teach nursing students and it is so important to get the information across to them in the most understandable way since they will have the lives of their patients in their hands.
      Thanks so much
      Midge Elkins PhD

      • Melissa Hudler

        Hi Midge
        S-S-KD questions are the Start-Stop-Keep Doing questions that Nicola mentions in her article. In the survey you ask students what they would like you to start doing, stop doing and keep doing. The survey is really useful as a midsemester survey, when you have time to make reasonable adjustments based on the results. I can certainly understand why you want to be sure that your students are comprehending the material.
        Best wishes,
        Melissa

        • Midge Elkins

          Melissa
          Thanks so much. I must have skipped over that area in her article. I did find a worksheet online that could be utilized for this approach. I must admit, I have not used this but certainly would find this extremely valuable.
          Thanks again Melissa
          Midge

          • Melissa Hudler

            You're most welcome! I'm glad you found one that you can use. I've been using this type of survey for several years and find it very valuable. My students always seem to appreciate it, especially when we have a class discussion about their responses and my plans to act on them. That post-survey discussion lets students know that you value their opinions and aren't just giving lip-service to the idea of student feedback.
            Good luck!

  • jeanne papa

    Good article. Thank you for speaking from your heart. What I say is "Tell me how this semester is going" What do you like, dislike and what can WE do better.
    Thank you,
    Jeanne

  • Edward Renner

    I wonder how long you have bee teaching, and how much difference there is between when you started and today. I have changed from giving a lecture 3 time a week to not giving any lectures. Any substantive material they need is available on line, most in either audio, video or pdf format, their choice. Each class is interactive applications of the concepts to specific issues. It you have not changed with the technology now available to us as teachers, then maybe it is you, not them to some degree.

  • Gonzalo Munevar

    Midge,
    In my long reply to Nicola I described how in making it difficult for students not to learn I create a great amount of interactions. They are the right kind of interactions, furthermore, since the students are placed in a situation where they think critically about the subject matter. This makes it easier for them to come to understand the subject a lot better, hence their greater performance. When you are interacting with the students in that way you can judge how well they are grasping the material, whether you need to approach a topic anew, whether you have an opportunity to provide even greater insight or whether, in the case of some students, they should come to see you in your office. At any rate, the proper feedback is what the students produce (in conversation, papers, etc.) not what they might say to "how you feel" lines of inquiry (which is what student evaluations lead to). The only relevant question (that reflects on your teaching) is how much did they learn, since good teaching should lead to good learning. And that question is not asked in such evaluations. And if it were the students are not reliable respondents. Remember when you were a student how often you heard your classmates say things like, "I can't believe I did so badly. I knew the material."

  • StandardModel

    Insofar as education is treated as a "deliverable" for which students tend to abdicate responsibility, the writing on the wall could not be more prominent. But I wonder if their alienation from the concept of taking responsibility is a result of an ugly paradigm they accept or a deeper understanding of the force of the paradigm.

    As a student and in my early career, I was committed to the notion that while there may be factors that oppose my ability to engage fully in whatever I signed on for, I should always adopt the attitude of being All In no matter what. But in Deliverables World, things take a turn toward the intolerable when even if your students are happy to be there, learning effectively and moving on to satisfying careers, you might be told that your program "doesn't make any sense" by your chancellor or provost for no better reason than the students don't fit a linear degree-to-occupation pattern (e.g., in Liberal Studies or Philosophy). The truth is that very few university disciplines provide a tight linear degree-to-occupation fit. Nor should they.

    I teach in a micro-environment in which students are highly satisfied while in my program's macro-environment I am struggling to explain and justify to administrators the "niche" my students occupy as if in a much reduced and false vision of the world. It's no less devastating to work on an island under attack despite its success because of the good teaching practices many of you have been describing here.

    What do the most discerning students with knowledge of the contexts in which education acquires its value learn from academic culture now? Perhaps it's that no matter how much personal responsibility one takes, the system is too broken for it to matter. Perhaps we need to adjust our own paradigms to accommodate survival or rebirth within a broken system.

  • Gonzalo Munevar

    Midge,
    I should have added that when I was Chair, a long time ago, I put in place, with my colleagues' agreement, a more relevant system for evaluation of teaching. Those of us who taught the different sections of a class would bring to a meeting two A papers, two B papers, two C papers,with the professor's comments on them, and the grade distribution in his section. We would then pass the papers around the room. I recall, for example, that one adjunct professor who had the highest student evaluations of anyone in the room, suddenly exclaimed, "What am I doing wrong?" As he explained, his very best students, to whom he had given As, would have barely gotten Cs in my class or P's class. It was clear to him that our students were learning far more than his. So we had a long conversation about how he taught, what kinds of questions he asked the students, etc. It turned out he was very likeable and encouraging, but not very challenging. He changed. So did the quality of his students' work. This sort of thing happened several times, particularly with new professors. I had around 70 people in the department, and I read thousands of student evaluations (my university requires them), and I never saw much correlation at all between the "notes" the students gave their professors and how much they learned in their classes. Our own system, on the other hand, allowed us to detect weaknesses and improve. The other thing we did was class visits. But the emphasis was, again, on how well the students performed in class discussion, or in their presentations, not on how clearly the professor explained the material, nor the rapport he had with students, nor how much he smiled. We also discovered that some people were incompetent: Their comments on student papers showed that they did not seem to know what a good paper was (a big problem for people teaching English composition). Little has done as much to dumb down higher education as student evaluations. Young professors, in particular, are afraid to challenge their students for fear of getting bad evaluations from them.
    I suppose the way I have been teaching for over 40 years can be described as a "flipped classroom," but I must point out that I ended up teaching that way because that was the way most of my best professors at Northridge taught when I was an undergraduate. In my Ph.D. program at Berkeley it was pretty much expected.

  • Nate Branson

    I love the Neil Postman reference.

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  • As a faculty in mechanical and aerospace engineering at a private university for nearly 15 years now, I echo much of the experience with feedback that Dr. Nicola has reflected on. Student feedback can be pleasing for the wrong reasons, like when he or she does not perceive the need for hard work to get a good grade on the exam, or the faculty nearly made the (forthcoming) paper rather obvious in terms of what to expect. Ethically, my conscience holds me back from delivering a highly simplified content that students won't gain much from in the long run, or from making their forthcoming question paper obvious enough to get past hard work. Feedback, in its present form, has always been and will surely remain a poor yardstick of measuring teaching effectiveness.

  • Paul Sevigny, MS, BA

    I expect it's an advantage, being a major course instructor and an Academic Advisor for the Continuing Education Division of our school. Knowing the degree programs and the importance of the material I teach, it's impact on the success of our adult learners and the effective completion of degree requirements, it's often difficult to respond to any criticism from the students. These students are almost exclusively adult learners with families, careers, and other outside considerations. While most of them enjoy "learning" the material, they are more focused on internalizing it enough to successfully complete their degree programs. I expect that the amount of satisfaction for both the instructor and the student, in my case, depends very much on how the student perceives its usefulness, application and the skills set it provides for degree completion and my ability to measure that internalization.

  • Marie

    Thanks for this, all the way from Singapore! Sometimes, we instructors pay too much attention to our evaluations. I think we need to be open to feedback from learners, but we also have to have the conviction that it's a partnership and they need to want to learn and put in the effort. The "negative comments", though startling, can sometimes serve as a "critical incident" that leads to reflection and change.

  • DrEvel1

    It’s pretty clear that Postman’s basic point about the shift in emphasis in higher education towards skills training is true, although it is not equally clear that even the best skills training translates into improved employment, let alone an improved life over an extended period. This emphasis roughly corresponds with the overall shift in the economic climate toward reduced employment possibilities, beginning back in the 1980s and accelerating since the great recession. Even the jobs that we have thought of as being “only something a human could do” are increasingly deskilled, automated, and outsourced. The pace of this process tends to shrink planning horizons significantly, since we understand that forecasting the effects of change becomes increasingly difficult over time, and our expectation is that employment will become increasingly tenuous. In general, sustaining faith that things will improve and that long-term investments will pay off is also increasingly difficult.

    The perfectly natural response to this is increased anxiety about the future and a tendency to want something that has a chance of immediate payoff. If you don’t believe that investing your time and money in a general liberal education will eventually increase your quality of life, you’re going to put your resources into something with a more or less visible short- term reward. Education thus becomes less the development of a relationship and an investment in the future and more the acquisition of a commodity. When you’re buying a commodity, you not unreasonably define yourself as a consumer and evaluate your purchase in terms of short-term satisfaction and performance. Thus, the “student-as-consumer” model of higher education that has been embraced by a large percentage of students and a substantial proportion of educational administrators makes a certain amount of sense.

  • Dr. Ann R. Wolven

    The corporatization of education has lead to the mentality of "student as consumer" versus "student as learner". They cannot just charge it to their credit card and walk out of the store with knowledge without any effort on their parts. It's taken me a long time not to take it personally when I am in situations where I care more about the knowledge my students gain and the grades they earn than some of them do. Teaching at a rural community college, I teach a diverse variety of students, some of whom are completely unprepared or under-prepared for college work, others who excel at it. However, it is the students who just do not care and don't see the point of even trying who always bother me. What, in their past experience, has caused them to quit caring about learning, something that will benefit them for the rest of their lives?

  • K Harris, RN,MN

    I recently moved to teaching at a new university. I came with generally very positive student evaluations, from students who respected me for often challenging the status-quo in health care and taking a patient-centric approach. However, this approach can cause a conflict when hospitals, as institutions, function primarily from an institutional-centric (and resource-centric) approach. Patient-centric and institutional-centric are often two conflicting paradigms, despite the ideology of patient-centric dogma (propaganda) the institutions claim.
    I take my teaching and student's learning very seriously and put a great deal of myself into it because I have spent 28 years with patients at the bedside. This effort and commitment previously felt worth the personal effort when I would see the results evident in students' learning as they transpire into quality care of patients. Consequently, the negative student comment I have received at the new school are very demoralizing and hurtful. The most negative comments seem to come from immature (intellectually or chronologically) students. Examples are: "I can't believe I paid for that" and "the class was a waste of time", or worse, "worst teacher I have ever had". Hearing about other experienced teacher's similar experiences makes me worried that this is an emerging trend. I see a link to a lack of taking responsibility for their own learning, possibly Postman's analysis is evident as well.
    However, I also see a lack of taking responsibility in general society, as both a trend and a context for student/youth learning.
    I am seeing a growing trend in immature emotional development and a more selfish approach in what many younger students want from education. Some students are sophisticated enough to manipulate their criticisms, on the surface, they can make it sound like they are caring about their learning or their patients, but with more in-depth critical analysis, it becomes clear that it is self-serving behaviour.
    My real struggle is convincing the new Dean that I am not really a horrible teacher, despite the negative student comment on my evaluations that were done before the final exam (interestingly, the comments are very polarized; some students really like my teaching and comment specifically on helping them critically think and a patient-centred approach).
    I feel teaching should be evaluated on the student's learning outcomes. I teach from a flipped-class approach as well. It is what I thought the norm was, considering what we know of learning outcomes. I voluntarily gave an extra class (I am only paid for my contracted in-class hours as a sessional instructor) to help the students know what to focus on for the final exam. There was significant anxiety with some students about not knowing exactly what to study from the assigned readings, since I did not teach verbatim fromthe textbook, but rather, preferred group learning activities that focused on application level of learning (as with Bloom's taxonomy levels) and analytical discussions. My class averaged 90% on the final exam and produced some very good learning reports from the community field experiences I guided them through. However, I was let go from the university because of too many negative student comments. The learning outcomes and positive comments seemed irrelevant. It appears that the 'commodification of learning' is alive and well and a destructive trend.

  • K Harris,RN,MN

    I remain committed to what I believe in and to focus learning on best-care practices despite the professional and financial consequences. The positives results are that I have spent a great deal of time analyzing the situational complexities that contextualize complex issues such as contemporary post-secondary learning. Many of my conclusions we all know as teachers:
    Learning must be an active, not a passive exercise and is a two-way exchange. There is more than an excessive amount of data level information out there for students. Teachers are no longer needed or there for content, but rather to help students navigate content as best meets the learning goals.
    Additional comments I have about trends in excessively negative student comments in evaluations:
    One, critical thinking/analysis is not welcome by many-who take possible alternative perspectives personally rather than objectively. Two, Critical thinking is often resisted due to requiring more cognitive effort/brain energy (for more see Khaneman, 2011), whether resistance is by administration or students. Three, I see a direct link between todays' young adults and a demand/desire for 'easy learning', with simplified black and white, memorization/regurgitation level (lower level Bloom's taxonomy) information and answers to things. I fear that it will get worse with the data-centric communications and data-driven learning of today.
    Four, I see a direct link in current behaviours such as resistance to acknowledging instructor expertise and giving very negative and subjective comments where there is anonymity and the ability to hide (like evaluations or on Facebook with peers).
    Five, I see a direct link to the frustration-aggression response that child psychologists are identifying in today's youth as immature emotional development or emotional intelligence(EI) due to lack of attachment with parents (less closeness and quality time) and the irresponsibility, negativity, and lack of basic respect that we are seeing in students, which can surface harshly with the unaccountability that comes with anonymous teacher evaluations. This I encourage others to look into this social-psychology phenomena more, to see if they recognize a connection in their students (see Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate`'s work) because I think we will see even greater amounts of this with upcoming youth and I worry that such attitudes and lower EI act as a barrier to the higher taxonomies of learning our societies needs.

    • Gonzalo Munevar

      What happened to you was a disgrace, not only because of the unfairness to you, but because of he damage it does to higher education. You give a perfect example of what I discussed in my several postings in this thread. Teaching should be evaluated by how much learning the students do. Student evaluations of professors are at best irrelevant, at worst, when the administration takes them seriously, they can be very harmful. And student evaluations of professors are the main factor in lowering the value of higher education, because professors, particularly untenured ones, become afraid of challenging students (cf. your remarks on the resentment of challenges to think critically). I am afraid, though, that the general student attitude of taking the easy road in education has been there for a long time, but administrators have made it a lot worse. As for nasty comments, you should just ignore them, when your job is not on the line. They have been there from the beginning of student evaluations (evaluations came into vogue when I became a professor about 40 years ago). I still remember the first nasty comment: "He couldn't explain shit to flies." There was a certain wit to it. Once again, I am sorry to hear about your case. With those learning outcomes, you should have been rewarded instead.

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  • Anne H

    Thanks for an intelligent and insightful article. You articulately reveal the great paradox of teaching. Unfortunately the ideals that rightfully govern the teaching profession (i.e. commitment to sharing the transformative power of education) clash directly with the market driven commodification of it in this day and age, exacerbated by the general sense of entitlement that governs our society. Students, parents and the community see education as a quantifiable product because they are paying for it as taxpayers and/or in hefty private tuition. In actual fact, nothing could be further from the truth because the value of education lies completely in the hands of the individual and their choice to engage with learning or not. Taking personal responsibility is also something that as a society we don't do well. It is therefore not surprising that students and parents will look to blame teachers for poor learning outcomes.

    Educational leadership is also victim to the same paradox or possibly they don't even recognise it in the first place. Support is lacking for teachers, especially new staff as they struggle to confront cohorts of students who resist learning regardless of the pedagogical approach applied and teacher efforts to find new and improved ways to engage them. Consequently the teacher is blamed again. Interestingly there is a big departmental push towards positive growth mindsets as a way of encouraging students/teachers to engage more deeply with learning but I think there is some truth in what Kohn (2015) says…."no mindset is a magic elixir that can dissolve the toxicity of structural arrangements. Until those arrangements have been changed, mindset will get you only so far". In this instance, I see the problematic structural arrangement as being the compromise between the ideal of education as transformational versus that of being a cyclical product with the primary purpose enabling students to get in to university and secure a job within a system that ultimately fosters limitation, largely discourages personal responsibility and is self-perpetuating.

    As a mature-aged woman, with other qualifications and career experience prior to taking on teaching, I am now questioning whether I am suited to the profession. I have just completed my first year of teaching in 2015, feeling like the ideals that lead me to the profession have been totally napalmed, not to mention my confidence shattered. Yes I can say "It's you and not me" but the negativity of students and their rude/disrespectful behaviour day in day is totally draining, even when you continue to adjust and adapt your lessons and behaviour management approaches accordingly. To be honest, I felt like I was pushing a barrow of excrement up Mount Everest all year! As much as I am resilient and look for positives, upon reflection I am grappling to see how intelligent and creative people can remain effective in a profession that has such a paradox at the core…but then what? Sadly, commodification is not only at the core of education but every profession and employment/business opportunity…or starve! I am currently looking for ways forward.

    Apologies for the level of negativity expressed here. Positive viewpoints and feedback welcome! I need some.

  • AndyinAmsterdam

    Great article. I want to photocopy it and pass it out to everyone at school – teachers and students. Interesting that this was written by a teacher in Canada, posted on a website in Texas, and that it reflects exactly what's going on in Holland. It's happening everywhere.

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