Over the past couple of weeks here, and really since the start of the module, I’ve been playing double duty and catch-up, trying to make sure I get all of my work done while still teaching my students. It’s been…interesting, to say the least.
One of our assignments recently was talking about our experiences within an online course–whether we were students in it, or assigned to teach it. So, of course, I wrote about teaching this past module, and how many mistakes I thought I made. My biggest fears as an educator are that I’ve failed somehow–failed my students, failed my AAPM (who put a lot of faith into me and stood behind me with anything I needed), failed my family, failed myself. I hold myself to such a high standard that I don’t know that I could ever reach the bar I set. So when the questions are “what would you do differently?” and “what improvements would you make?” my knee-jerk reaction is “everything.”
I’ll copy part of my answer here, for two reasons. One, it’s to keep myself accountable. I am not perfect, and I need to be able to keep track of where I can/need to improve. Two, it’s because I am not perfect, and maybe my story can give support and help to another new instructor who feels like s/he’s failing at life.
I started the class with 25 students–a full section. I’m ending my class with 21 students, and at least four of them haven’t really been participating for a while but never bothered to drop the course. Part of me feels like I failed them in some way. Was I too tough a grader? Was I not sympathetic enough? Do I suck that badly? I can’t honestly answer these questions.
I’m absolutely terrified of the end of course evaluations. I’m afraid of what they think of me. It shouldn’t matter–the only thing that should matter is whether they learned something. But…what if I’m the reason they didn’t? What if I did something wrong? I can only hope that those evaluations can help guide me to what I can improve upon.
My instructor, bless his wonderful heart, gave me some great feedback and support on the whole thing. He told me (and really all of us in the class since it was in our discussion board) to be consistent, predictable, and accessible, and that there has to be work on the part of the students. Essentially, I can only lead the horse to water; I can’t make it drink. This was probably the best advice anyone could ever give me regarding this experience. I can only do what I can do. I can be accessible and predictable in my grading, and consistent in my feedback and discussion facilitation. I can do my job. It’s up to the students to do theirs. I can’t learn this information for them–I know it already. I spent an exorbitant number of years learning this myself. I can guide them, I can give them information, but I can’t make them learn it.
We are, none of us, perfect. Instructors can’t be. If we, as instructors, are perfect, then what is there to improve upon? If we, as instructors, are perfect, how do we empathize with our students? How do we understand what they’re going through? The short answer is, we can’t. At the end of the day, we are all learners. We have to be. We always have to be learning and improving ourselves, so that we can teach and help our students improve themselves. We have to lead by example, and sometimes that means being vulnerable. Sometimes that means admitting that we don’t know everything. But we can do this. We can improve, and we can be better educators for it. Yes, I’m scared of what those evaluations say. But I know that they will include things I can improve upon. And that’s all any of us can do–strive to be better than what we think we can be. Maybe that’s enough.