Feedback seen in retrospect

090720141916While rummaging through some old PC files the other day, I stumbled upon a feedback summary I had received back in October 2012 as a student of a TEFL MA program.

I should stress that our teaching practice was tough and our teacher trainer was extremely demanding. Despite all the teaching experience most of us trainees already had, we all suffered from terrible stage fright before each observation. Equally unsettling was what came next – the oral and written feedback that we would regularly get after the lesson.

As I was re-reading the document the other day, the first thing that struck me was how detached the feedback looked after all the time. Although I remembered most of the details from that particular lesson, it suddenly looked as if the comments had been written for somebody else.

Students had a quiet start to the lesson.

Since so many students have a problem with the name of “R”, how about writing it on the board and getting it fixed before the problem proliferates?

Please don’t let these mistakes go, especially when this is the focus of this section.

Hana, can you ask more questions?

They are pretty quiet – any chance of a bit more mingling?

No feedback on the activity?

It makes me laugh when I remember how, in my thoughts, I reacted to the following remark:

My teacher trainer wrote: “So you did decide to put your whole plan on the board. Was it of any value? Did they read it? Do you think this is worth doing in the future?”

I thought: “Ok, so the teacher trainer thought it was a silly idea to display the plan on the board. Damn it! I shouldn’t have done that. I only wanted to please anyway.”

Now that I think about it, it’s actually a great question to ponder. Is it worth doing? Would the learners and/or the trainee/teachers benefit somehow? I guess that back then I only wanted to get a decent grade and I believed that every deviation from the ideal, i.e. every decision that the observer had questioned, may finally destroy this ambition.

I remember that back then when I felt stressed out, any even slightly critical comment looked judging to me, even condemning. I felt as if I had messed it all up. This is obviously ridiculous. In retrospect, the feedback looks perfectly just, helpful and constructive. The positive comments suddenly come to the fore:

Nice demo of a vocabulary item.

Nice clear speaking voice.

They laughed at your remark, which is a good sign.

Thank you for NOT giving out the worksheet before the task.

It’s unbelievable how much self-flagellation goes on in the mind of the observee when they think it’s high stakes. It’s mostly due to the stress the observee experiences and it doesn’t necessarily have to relate to the quality of the lesson or the way feedback is delivered or how harsh it appears at a given moment.

090720141915

It’s even more unbelievable how dramatically the value of feedback changes when it’s no longer vitally important to us. The self-flagellation is gone and it gives way to serious thinking. It can even be amusing. I wonder why it is so; it is the same feedback and the same addressee after all. Perhaps it’s true that time heals all wounds. Also, we change, evolve and grow until we’re eventually able to see the same things from a different, more objective perspective.

Thus, I think it might be fun to try a series of observations with feedback intended for our future selves. We would be sent the feedback file after a safe amount of time – once we’d no longer feel so attached to our performance and so dependent on the conclusions of the observer. It could take days, weeks or months. Anyway, we would definitely get more time to think about our lesson and I’m convinced that we’d uncover most of the flaws ourselves. Then, when reading the delayed feedback, either positive or negative, we’d probably only catch ourselves nodding in agreement all the time …

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About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for more than 20 years. I love metaphors and inspiring discussions concerning teaching, learning and linguistics.
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6 Responses to Feedback seen in retrospect

  1. Marc says:

    Your timing is perfect! I start my DipTESOL teaching practice next month and will be observed and assessed by my tutor and observed by a fellow trainee. I think I’ll set up an automated email/ blog post with this feedback so I can reflect on it again.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sandy Millin says:

    Hi Hana,
    After some of the reactions I’ve had to comments I’ve put on to feedback this year, it’s so nice to see this. While I might not always have phrased the feedback ‘correctly’ or delivered it in the ‘right’ tone of voice, I do try to be balanced and to ask questions to prompt thinking. I email feedback to the trainees after the spoken feedback session. I wonder if I should suggest them sending it back to themselves in a couple of years to see what’s changed 🙂
    Thought-provoking as always!
    Sandy

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Well, I think you can never please everyone, Sandy. No matter how ‘correct’ and well-balanced your feedback is, the way it is accepted mainly depends on the recipient in the end. Some people are very good at accepting critical comments while others prefer not to hear them at all. It also largely depends on the relationship between you – the trainer – and your trainees. If they take you as an authority who can influence their future, even an innocent remark can cause a disaster. Anyway, I’m convinced you do your job well and I would really love to have you as my teacher trainer 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Natalia Ladygina says:

    Thank you for this post, Hana. I found my old CELTA file last year and went through all my lesson plans and tutors’ comments on them again. The first thing I noticed now (five years later) is that I was doing really well on the course which I might not have been able to see at that time because of anxiety and inevitable self-flagellation. Secondly, I noticed a striking difference between highly judgmental and straightforward comments of one tutor and very thought-provoking “do you think”-kind of comments of the other. The latter seemed to be sarcastic rather than thought-provoking five years back. But now I wish my second tutor had had enough time to ask these questions orally in person and guide me to the answers rather than leave me panicking and guessing over them written. A very good point to think of for me as a tutor. Thank you, Hana. You’ve just made me a bit better.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Thank you very much for your comment, Natalia. Isn’t it great to go through our old files from time to time? Apparently, there are some real gems buried deep among all the trash. 🙂 Both my post and your comment are a proof that with time, we human beings usually see things from a more positive perspective. We tend to forget the negative and focus on the core of the matter, which is the most important part for our personal and professional growth. Thanks for sharing one of your own gems here on my blog. Much appreciated!

      Like

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