This post is a sort of an epilogue to my "better teacher" series (see here, here, and here). Unfortunately, it's not the happy ending that I had hoped for. You see, despite having done more advance preparation for the semester than ever, and despite totally revamping my teaching to offer more mentoring, more scaffolding, more one-on-one conferences, and letting go of where I thought my students already ought to be in favor of working with where they actually were, the final papers and the first final exam have showed that they, on average, have spectacularly tanked this semester. Not just "they're not improving like I expected them to"; they've actually gotten worse -- much worse.
I am, needless to say, feeling discouraged. I've worked harder this semester than ever before, and gone into it more prepared than ever, and the results have been... well, bad. And I've been at a loss as to what to do about it.
Fortunately, I remembered a bit of advice that I am constantly giving my students: "If you're lost, I will do whatever I can, but I may not know unless you tell me. So ask for help."
So I did something I haven't done since I was a rookie teacher: I reached out to a superior teacher in my department (demanding of her students, and they rise to the occasion; won a university-wide teaching award a couple of years ago), told her about the problems I was having, and asked her if she'd take a look at what I was doing and offer me honest feedback and whatever constructive suggestions she had. Her first response was to reassure me that this may not be my fault at all; that our students lately had been less than stellar. But then, generous soul that she is, she went beyond mere reassurance and said, yes, let's meet for coffee and really see if there's something you can be doing better. Not "more" -- she's a firm believer in efficiency of effort and understands where there's a point of diminishing returns -- just better.
We are meeting on Friday. I'll report back then. But whatever happens, I'm grateful to have such a generous colleague, and happy that I remembered the simple rule: If you're struggling, ask for help.