No really, some good news. I’d like to report a couple of brief incidents that arose yesterday, while nursing the effects of a mild hangover and a bad night’s sleep (I will never cease to be a amazed by the astonishing ability of small children to detect that you really don’t need to be woken up at 4am).
The first came at the end of the morning. I was teasing my level two class (AKA The Nicest Class in the Universe ™) that those of them who have just signed up to an ESOL and ICT course which I am also teaching would be sick of me by the end of a Thursday after almost five hours contact. And you know what they said? “No. We like your lessons, you are a very good teacher.”
The second came this afternoon, saying goodbye to an Entry 1 ESOL for Employment group. “Next week your teacher will be Jeffrey all afternoon, instead of just half of the afternoon. I won’t be teaching you from next week.” Cue cries of “oh, but we really like your lessons. We learn a lot” and genuine, I think, actual disappointment. (And no, I don’t think this is a reflection on the quality of the other teacher, before you say it.)
I’m not sharing this because I want everyone to know how great I am (well, maybe a little bit) but because out of all the things you get in terms of feedback on your performance, that is the one which trumps all the rest. As an assessment on how well you do you job, crap like observation grades and feedback pales into insignificance behind a genuine bit of positive feedback from students. I’d give a million grade 1 lesson observation verdicts for a single “that was really interesting and useful, thanks” piece of feedback from a learner. Never mind learners achieving your carefully written SMART learning outcomes, it’s this kind of thing which really hits home.
There’s a bit of a belief in FE that ESOL learners are all charming, generous individuals so desperately grateful for their lessons that they will take any old crap from a teacher and be happy. Erm, no. Compared to a bunch of teenagers trying to out hormone each other’s egos, yes, there is a certain amount of calm and reasonableness in an adult ESOL class, and they are, by and large, grateful that the government have grudgingly parted with a few hundred quid for their lessons. And increasingly, of course, ESOL learners are paying themselves for significant chunks of their course, which casts a whole different light on things.
Most commonly, learners complain with their feet, and simply stop coming to class. I once knew a teacher whose class attendance actually went up when they went off sick for a few weeks. Alternatively, particularly if they are paying out of their minimum wage income, they complain direct. Sometimes to their teacher, but more often they will go to the teacher’s line manager or, possibly even worse, another teacher. ESOL learners do and will express their dissatisfaction if they are not happy with what is happening, be they beginners in a community centre or Level 2 college based classes, and you have to deal with it.
A learner complaint about your teaching is one of the worst feelings you get as a teacher, including the time when it’s that learner who is never happy with anything and criticises every single change you make even though it is exactly what they wanted you to do. It’s horrible, whether justified or not. It’s useful, of course, because you can change what you do, or you have to look hard at what you did and be honest about your justification, but nobody ever said it was nice.
But yesterday I had the compliments. And that feels good. So I thought I would share that good feeling with you.