Recently our school handed out surveys to various stakeholders in the school. One group that received it was students. Many of us questioned the usefulness of asking students their views of the school. Obviously, a student will have a different perspective of what constitutes a good school. I remember when I was in high school, I had different goals and needs from my school experience than the teachers did. While I did care about learning, they never asked me “is this school a great environment to get a date?” Now that was feedback I cared about.
Nonetheless, I think it is important to care about student satisfaction. Education is supposed to be about the students. While we are certainly guiding them, which means there will be moments when we have to do things in their best interest that they may not appreciate until later, we nonetheless have to consider student satisfaction. I find that it is pretty easy to keep students satisfied, even when you challenge them, if you keep a few key points in mind. Sure there will be students that will never want to learn and will resist any goodwill efforts on your part, but for the most part, you can win over students by using the following tips:
Establish a Relationship (Appropriate) With Students.
Students are humans. They want to have meaningful interactions with people around them. Some teachers purposefully set themselves up as distant authority figures. I believe you will find the most success if you are an authority figure, but one that they like. Students are more likely to accept your criticism and discipline if they like you. Don’t be inappropriate (you aren’t their buddy), but nonetheless you have to be likable.
When I first started teaching, I believed I had to be a hard-ass, which is to say “no smiling to Christmas.” It backfired horribly. I lost pretty much an entire grade of students because I acted hard first, and and then tried (and failed) to build rapport later.
Show Them You Want Them to Succeed
In college, I had a professor that tore my papers to shreds (not literally; figuratively. See, he taught me that!). It made me the writer I am today. I appreciated every single blot of red ink he put on my papers. Why? I knew he wanted me to succeed. His style, words, and actions told me he was caring, friendly, and knew what he was talking about. Even though he was difficult, he worked with students in class and outside of it to help students understand more clearly. I managed an “A” for that quarter, and I am still thankful for his constructive criticism. Had he been an uncaring, distant jerk, I likely would have resented any positive criticism, and I would still be talking about how that red ink scarred me for life.
Be Fair and Don’t “Trick Them”
One of my high school teachers (we’ll call her Mrs. Q.) was a great instructor in terms of content knowledge, but her personal style caused many students to resent her. I tried to like Mrs. Q., but it would be a stretch to say I did. Even now, I respect certain aspects of her teaching, but haven’t “come to appreciate” other ones. One time we got out of an assembly with literally one minute to go in 6th period. A few of my friends went ahead to 7th period class. The 7th period teachers in question had no problem with it, but Mrs. Q. did, and gave the students that went to 7th period, “skipping” her class for less than 60 seconds, a detention. In another instance, Mrs. Q. was subbing for a study hall, and a lot of us were talking, and apparently we weren’t supposed to. Instead of saying “hey guys, please be quiet,” we saw Mrs. Q. sneakily taking down names, as if to say “gotcha!” Maybe she relaxed with age, since she was a young teacher. I sure hope she did!
Also, I highly suggest you avoid tricking your students on assignments. Avoid “gotcha” moments that penalize students. If you want them to discover something above and beyond what is expected, make sure they aren’t being penalized for such enquiry. Instead of a moment of discovery it becomes a moment of resentment.
Move On Quickly From Discipline and Incidents
I have a friend who dated a girl that he later regretted dating. During the peak of the relationship, he and this girlfriend posed for a photo together, wearing matching flannel shirts. It was definitely worthy of Epic Fail. One time when I ran into him, I said “hey man, do you remember when you and Jennifer took that photo together?” He replied “how can I forget when you keep reminding me every time we meet??” He was joking, as was I, but it brings up a real point, which is that after you get punished, you don’t want to wallow in it.
Most students are embarrassed from punishment and negative incidents, and just want to move on. They want to see that you have moved on as well. Unfortunately, many teachers view punishment as punitive as opposed to rehabilitative, so emotionally “freezing out” a student for a week could be part of the “punishment” for a student talking out of turn. In other words, many teachers hold grudges and never move on. Instead of this, I prefer to assertively communicate my displeasure with student actions, and if that doesn’t work, I provide discipline, and then I move on. Embarrassment, guilt, and emotional games don’t help students learn and they certainly aren’t going to make students want to learn from you.
Give Students Choice (or at Least Perceived Choice)
One of the best ways to increase satisfaction with anything is to increase decision latitude. Decision latitude is your ability to be in control of choices that affect your life (or, a lack of ability). Teachers have a lot of latitude. We get paid to come to school. We can drink coffee at our desks, leave the room to use the restroom if we have to go, glance at an incoming text message from our buddies, and even arrive to class late occasionally, without penalty. If we are feeling tired or loaded with work, we pass out worksheets and catch up on work. This means we have a lot of decision latitude.
Now, let’s switch it. Students can’t drink coffee or pop if they are dragging that morning. They may, with embarrassment, have to explain in front of the class why their request to go to the bathroom really is “an emergency.” If they arrive late to class, they get punished. If they are loaded with work and have a huge test coming up, they still may have to work from bell-to-bell in the class before their big test. They can’t check their phone to get that emotional boost from their friends. In a word, they lack decision latitude.
I am not saying kids should have as much control as teachers. What I am saying is that they deserve some control. An easy way to give them some decision latitude even as you are struggling to cover every single new standard the state is throwing at you is to give them perceived choice. For example, you could say “do you want to read this passage together aloud, or quietly at your desks?” Notice they have no choice as to the day’s task (reading) or the content, but you are offering them some choice in the matter. Believe me, even little choices matter.
Sure, not every student will be satisfied no matter what you do, but there are ways to improve student satisfaction and keep high standards.