Sometimes I feel like a doctor who doesn’t take his own medicine. I spend a lot of time writing narrative comments on my students — in the hopes that students know that I do care about them and pay attention to who they are and what they do well. But also so they know places they can work to improve themselves.
I ask my kids to write narrative comments on me, and every year I am a total wuss about reading them. First I put them aside on my desk at school, and when I realize I’m never going to read them at school, I bring them home and put them on my desk, letting them sit there. They get bigger and bigger as they sit there. I don’t know what I expect to find in them — but each year I’m so critical about myself and my teaching that I expect these to be as critical. 
As an adviser, I sit down with my kids and we read their narrative comments together. We highlight the good in one color and the weaker areas in another, and look for trends within classes. I encourage my kids to read these and use them to improve. I would never let my any of my advisees not read their comments for a couple weeks while they prepared themselves.
But look at me, total wuss. I did.
But right now, as I type this, I have the unread stack next to me. What I’m going to do is to go through it, and publicly make a list of all the things that I do that students say are places of weakness / areas for improvement.
Okay, let’s begin.
- “I enjoyed the small group tables we used to do… I think bringing back the group work at the tables would be effective and good.”
- “at times you tend to move rather quickly”
- “Sometimes [Mr. Shah] moves very quickly through the smart board slides, which sometimes leads to a bit of confusion, but I am generally able to catch up”
- “I feel that at times you expect us to do a lot of work with little time and without a calculator [on tests]”
- “One thing that does not work for me is group work”
- “Sometimes I struggle to keep up with my notes, and then understanding as we go is also hard since I’m trying so hard to take down the right notes”
- “I do not like the binder checks, since I have a different way to organize myself”
- “Every once in a while I wish we would move a little more slowly through the material”
- “My one complaint is the binder check. I do not think we should be graded so harshly on our organizational isues. I end up spending valuable math studying time redoing old assignments that I lost”
- “I do find that [class] can be pretty slow at times, simply because we go through every problem step by step as a class”
- “Every once in a while I feel the homework takes a little too long but overall it’s a good amount”
- “I feel  at times it would be better if you spent a little more time explaining the concept behind how to do problems, rather than simply doing the problems themselves”
- “I think that you should give more partial credit on tests, because often we understand things but make simple mistakes which really should warrant more credit than given”
- “I do feel that homework should be counted more than 10% because that’s what I put the most time into”
- “One thing that makes class difficult for me sometimes is the pace that we move. Sometimes it goes a little fast and I don’t have time to digest everything that you say”
- “[I]t is really hard to have to learn new things the day before we take a test. If I have questions about the new topic it doesn’t always give me enough time to work out my problems.”
- “Sometimes his unyielding energy can be annoying, but that’s probably because I’m living on 4 hours of sleep every night”
- “[T]here isn’t as much in-class review for assessments as I would like, but I know that as seniors it is expected of the class to do a lot of studying on their own”
Okay, so guess what? That wasn’t bad at all! Basically, I feel bad for you because you didn’t get to read all the supergreatawesomethings that were said, which now makes me feel like “hey, I’m not a total failure!” And now I have a list of things that I get to sort though, decide if it is a generally valid point, and if so, what (if anything) I can do to change it.
A few things that immediately come to mind for Algebra II
1. A few of my students feel like I’m moving too quickly. Already I’m thinking “we’re like 3 weeks behind where I was at this time last year!” — so finding a solution won’t be easy. But I think doable. I think it calls for redesigning the routine of the class a bit.
2. One thing I wanted to do last year and earlier this year (but never did) was to design and put a little “WRITE THIS DOWN” icon on the smartboard slides that I thought students should take notes on. Students have difficulty taking notes in a class which uses SmartBoard, because the text is already up there… so unlike when a teacher is writing on a whiteboard and students are copying it, with a SmartBoard students don’t have this lag time
3. I want to bring back more group work in Algebra II! I somehow stopped doing it regularly. The desk configuration in that room is all weird, and I tried something last quarter which didn’t work (groups of 4 are never a good idea), so I think this quarter we’ll institute groups of 3.
4. I refuse to change my stance on the binder check in Algebra II.
Calculus is a lot harder for me to think about changing based the feedback I got, and the varied the personalities and ability level of the students I have in the class. I’ll keep mulling it over and if I have any really strong insights about changes I’m going to make, I’ll post ’em.
 Yes, I know, none of my kids are going to be horrible and unkind. They are a respectful and nice group. But I always tell them to be honest — that that is more important to me than them writing empty platitudes — and I have them keep ’em anonymous. So a student COULD eviscerate me.