“I don't care what anybody says about me as long as it isn't true.” - Truman Capote
Earlier on in the semester I finally received in my faculty box the yellow student comment forms from the previous semester’s classes. These are part of the “Instructional Assessment System” that everyone dutifully fills out with a #2 pencil at the end of each semester, is then carried by courier to the Official Department of Cubicles and Those Who Grade the Graders (Instilling Confidence in Educational Evaluation Since 1980). But seriously, I honestly look forward to reading these, and make it a point to tell my classes how important it is that they spend a few extra minutes filling out the forms and answering, along with thirty-one others, these questions:
1) Was this class intellectually stimulating? Did it stretch your thinking? Y/N Why or Why Not?
2) What aspects of this class contributed most to your learning?
3) What aspects of this class detracted from your learning?
4) What suggestions do you have for improving the class?
“Please use the back of this sheet for any additional comments or to respond to additional questions. Thank You!”
All seven students who completed that semester’s class had responded - several did not make the final cut primarily due to attendance issues. The low turnout was in part due to that particular class being held off-campus location (art department code corrections), but taken as a sample and compared to previous IAS feedback over the years this one is consistently average. My median percentages were 4.8 on the combined evaluations of: course as a whole, course content, instructor's contribution and effectiveness teaching the subject matter.
Sometimes the comments are wildly inconsistent and illogical, sometimes amusing, and for every negative there'll be a positive, so overall everything tends to balance out. Even if a few are hurtful or blunt, one tries not to take it too personally (good or bad), and take into consideration the source, anonymous as it is. This is, in theory, a chance to subject oneself to an objective performance appraisal, and for every ignorant, petty, vindictive or shallow remark there's a nugget of honest insight and careful consideration. I mean, if you dish it out ... Some folks appreciate getting pushed, others hate it, some are quite free and open with their opinion and can set aside their own shortcomings and biases to offer up a genuine critique (one would hope so after going through one of my classes at any rate). So taken with a grain of salt, there's always some helpful material with which I can take into consideration and integrate with the next semester's class.
"Be more interested in the things we draw" "Emphasize you expect a lot and we'll do better" "The bugs" "Needs to be more cake and movie time" "more nap time" "My only complaint is the 8am time" "More free time drawing during classtime" "Constant drive to do better" "Learn to let people down gently, call their work stupid or say they couldn't handle something" "Jamie's open and laid-back style really helped me let go and let the creative juices flow" "A different approach to art than I usually take (good)" "The grading was a bit too harsh" "Hands-on approach" "Do not allow Mr. Smith to quit teaching here" etc.
Again, I seriously doubt that an awful lot of what I supposedly said was actually spoken, at least not in so many words; but even if it's a residual recollection or faint impression I made, then I still go off in an ingrown spiral of introspection and self-doubt. And then I get over it.
That said, whenever I run into former students of mine from years back, which seems to be happening more frequently as the years unravel, I confess that part of me sometimes cringes when I think of how much better I’ve become as a teacher now in comparison to when they took a class from me. It’s about as wonderful and fun to do as looking at my old artwork, which I also avoid doing as much as possible. Part of the motivation behind this whole blog experiment is to set down in writing somewhere just about everything and anything that happens in a beginning drawing class, and to some extent also capture the endless parade of trivia and information that flows through my brain during a typical semester. This project is already giving me some perspective on things that normally would be lost in the shuffle, and I hope to see a reduction in the “Rats I forgot to mention this/or that” syndrome that seems to pop up every time I teach a class or lecture somewhere.
I suppose in some way it’s not all that different than being perennially dissatisfied with my own artwork; just enough impetus to keep moving forward, learning, experimenting, growing, changing etc., always convinced that next time I can do it even better than I did before. And yet at the core there has to be a foundation that regardless of what other people think, you believe enough in yourself that negative feedback won’t dent your self-confidence or cripple any vision you have for expression. So again, the two realms of art and education are closer together than you’d think, at least in that regard.
I always learn something, many times about my own self too...
“I hear all comments and criticisms around me. I chew on them. I'm nourished by the ones that I decide work for me and spit out the others.” - Kelly Borsheim