Love Me? Hate Me?

This is the time of the year when the spring teaching session comes to a close and final grades are in. I enjoy playing Interested Observer, watching the students’ reactions when they learn of their grade. I receive many emails from students during this time – some write to tell me I am the best professor they’ve had and how much they learned from me. Others write to ask me what other classes I am teaching so they can enroll in additional classes with me. And then others send me flaming “hate” mail that tells me how awful I am and how disappointed they are, and that they would never want to take another class from me!

What’s interesting is how often their comments parallel the grades they have received. For example, I have never had a student where I gave an “A” tell me I was a lousy teacher! At times there are students who don’t fare as well, who will still write and tell me how much they enjoyed the class. In fact, I had one student ask to talk to me. He wanted to let me know that while he was distressed about his grade, he did learn a lot about working with teams and not “assuming” things were happening. It was an expensive lesson, but a good one to learn early in working life.

In one case, I had a student who was happy and smiling at every class. She told me a couple of times how other students had said what a great teacher I was. When the final grades came in, and she received a “C”, she wrote an email (mostly in capital letters!) telling me how horrible I was and how I had ruined her school career.

So, what’s the bottom line here? Am I a wonderful, engaging teacher? Am I Attila the Hun? Am I a terrible teacher who can’t get a thought across? Am I an experienced teacher who shares insightful information? The answer is…. It depends.

It depends on the student. It depends on the day. It depends on the material and how relevant it is to one’s life. It depends on which not-for-profit participates. It depends on the final grades.

The answer has much to do with the filter the students are using at any point in time. Are there uniformly great teachers? Yes – depending on your definition of “great.” Are there uniformly terrible teachers? Yes – depending on your definition of “terrible”.

The problem we have, as we approach many situations in life and many people, is that we paint them with a brush and label them a certain way. Our filters – our experiences and our viewpoints – color our perception of them. If we believe the teacher is “terrible,” we won’t have high expectations for that class. Maybe we will be surprised and find out it is better than we thought. If we believe they are “great,” we’ll look forward with anticipation – until we receive a grade we don’t like, and then we feel the teacher isn’t so hot!

Over time, the schools do surveys and can see trends. Good teachers get overall good grades from students, and bad ones get weeded out. There are standards and there are measurements. But the point is that we don’t realize in many cases how we are coloring our viewpoint of another person because of the experience WE have of them – not of how they really are. We honestly don’t see and understand that the person sitting next to us in class might be having a completely different experience of the same teacher and same material. We feel convinced we are right and our view is the one that matters.

This week, observe your own thought process toward others. Do you immediately judge their approach as “good” or “bad”? Do you think to yourself “She isn’t very smart” or “He is such a jerk”? When you catch yourself labeling or judging, ask where the judgment comes from. Do you have a bias because of something that impacts you?

I honestly don’t know if I am a good teacher or not. I know my material. I am passionate about teaching. I get mostly positive remarks back from students. But, at the root of it, it IS each student’s own experience and whether they learned something or not. The role of the teacher is to teach something. If they like me or don’t, it ultimately doesn’t matter. If they learn or they don’t, it does.