Your Opinion Matters

“MCDS values your opinion on your teachers” – Mr. Culbertson and Ms. Maxwell, the Deans of Faculty, want to emphasize this fact. Last school year, my fellow journalist Francess Dunbar published an article titled “Did Your Teacher Earn Their ‘A’?” to inform the student body about the use of feedback forms to start a conversation during the teachers’ annual reviews. With these student-feedback forms, teachers can better understand the workings of their classroom to directly affect and better understand how their teaching styles are perceived by the students. Miami Country Day emphasizes the student-teacher relationship in order to enhance our learning experiences.

A common misconception that some students might make are that these forms will be overlooked and disregarded. This assumption is far from the truth. Mr. Culbertson, the Dean of Faculty, and Ms. Maxwell, who will be taking over the position next school year, want to emphasize that the purpose of these forms is to start conversation during the annual teacher evaluations. This is a chance to give the teachers insight as to how their students are learning and how effective their teaching skills really are. Moreover, the information received during these evaluations is used to make teaching goals and objectives while providing one more tool for the teachers to grow professionally. Through this, MCDS ensures that the student’s honest voice is important in improving the quality of their education.

When a group of diverse 9th – 12th grade students, enrolled in classes of all levels from LRP to AP, were asked how they approached these feedback forms last spring and how they would approach them this year, the response was positive. Students strongly stated that they responded honestly and with a purpose. These students indicated that they were interested in giving constructive criticism to the teachers, so future students could benefit.

Do students believe that their voice is actually heard by the teachers? Well… the answer is a bit grayer. Sara Walker, a junior, and David Franco, a senior, noticed last year that there was little change after the feedback forms were completed. Two sophomores did notice that the classroom environment did change after they completed the survey with their teacher lecturing less and making sure that the material presented was understood by the majority of the class. Yasmine Bazzi and Danielle Ben-David, both juniors, feel that some teachers improved on their weakness in their teaching style, but other teachers would just read the forms and disregard student’s opinions that were clearly stated.

Some educators may feel that a semester is not sufficient enough to grasp a teaching style, but Mr. Brennan, an English teacher, believes that this assumption is not true. “Students could probably grasp a teacher’s style within a week or two.  They’d get a sense of his or her personality, the ways in which information is presented, the types of assessments, and grading style quite quickly,” he adds. When other teachers were asked the same question, all responded with a resounding “Yes, a semester would be more than enough time.”

Ideally the feedback given by the students should begin conversations among the teachers how to better meet students’ needs in the classroom.  Mr. Konen, a biology teacher, believes that “If they’re done correctly and thoughtfully, instead of hatefully, then of course these would be great for starting constructive conversations with constructive feedback.” Math teacher Mrs. Sachs agrees but believes the written comments are far more helpful than the ranking; “The numbers do not help the teachers improve because we do not know what the students don’t like. What am I doing right? What am I doing wrong? We need comments on each question stating why they gave us a specific number.”  English teacher Ms. Whittington agrees, “Without comments, it can be difficult to discern what a numerical rating meant, so as a teacher, it is more helpful when a student has made comments.” Surely with a little more time and effort by the students by writing down comments their voices would have more depth to the teachers who are reading them.

Educators were asked how student feedback would impact how they approached their classes. Mr. Konen, Mr. Brennan, Mrs. Sachs, and Ms. Whittington all stated that students’ feelings and opinions definitely affect their classroom habits. In fact, some teachers like Ms. Whittington do evaluations of their own after each quarter to make sure each student gets what they need. The quality of feedback is important because it causes more substantive changes in the classroom. Mrs. Sachs said that she would change her teaching style if she knew that all students felt the explanation wasn’t clear. A need to alter the way material was presented would arise.

Certainly, these forms are far from being perfect indicators of how a teacher’s style affects students, but with constant improvements and the integrity of the students who respond, teachers and administrators could have a clearer view of what happens in the classroom and how effectively teachers are impacting their students. Therefore, when filling out these forms be as honest and constructive as you would like your teacher to be when evaluating your performance in class.