Mrs. Zinn Is Stupid. Mrs. Zinn Rocks. Mrs. Zinn Is a Satanist. Mrs. Zinn Is Cool. Mrs. Zinn Is the Worst Teacher in the World. Mrs. Zinn Is the Ultimate God.

March 4, 2010

Mrs. Zinn is stupid The hat rule is stupid. If I pay good money for a hat and want to wear it to school, it’s my head and I should be able to wear a hat on it if I want to. If I could change school, I would change it so that I can wear a hat whenever I want to. So in conclusion, the hat rule is stupid.
• Student journal entry, October 1991 (Note: This is one of many paragraphs from this student that began with “Mrs. Zinn is stupid.”)

Someone somewhere sometime is going to say something about you. Then someone else is going to say something else. And those two things could be pretty much the opposite. I should know. I’m a teacher. Sometimes—most of the time—students are positive about my courses. Sometimes they aren’t.

It’s some of the negatives that bother me. I perseverate about these comments. They cut into my brain and although the wounds begin to heal, I pick at the scabs, trying to see if I can make these hurtful comments bleed again. I am evaluated by students regularly and formally, and I also seek other formative input. The evaluatory comments I get fall into a couple of general categories. The first category, the ones that don’t really bother me except as impetus to action, are the thoughtful ones that seem to truly want to help me make the classes better.

I appreciate this kind of comment. It doesn’t accuse me of anything, it assumes that I intend to be a good teacher, but that I am human and could use some help from the student perspective. These students share their insights about class sessions or assignments. They make suggestions about things to delete or add. They tell me what works and what doesn’t. There is a sincerity of purpose in their words and I can tell that the writers genuinely want to be helpful. Bring these comments on. I love them. I listen to them. I often implement the ideas.

The second kind of comment is the kind that wounds. I know that these hurtful words shouldn’t bother me, but they do. These responses don’t seem to take into account that I am a human being and since they are anonymous, they are sometimes needlessly mean.

They seem unaware of the reality of the job of teaching and the work it entails: “All work should always be returned within one week. There is no excuse for teacher laziness. If we have to do the work on time, it should be back on time.” They seem to expect that I should dedicate my life to work 24/7: “Since I’m paying the teacher’s salary, when I need help, I should get it. I have to do homework at night and on weekends, so that’s when I need the teacher to be available.” They ignore the realities of teaching and learning: “With such an easy job like teaching, Dr. Zinn seems to have forgotten that some people have to work for a living. She needs to assign a reasonable amount of work. Students are people with busy lives.”

Both Benjamin Franklin and Dale Carnegie have been credited with saying that any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain, and most fools do. If you’re a student who has an opportunity to provide feedback for your teachers, consider offering the constructive and helpful kind. Resist the opportunity to engage in anonymous bashery and unrealistic whinery.

If you were the teacher in your classes, what changes would you make?

Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.
• Winston Churchill


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