Everyone likes to think they are doing a good job of teaching their classes. One good way to find out is to ask the students. If you offer the student an opportunity to give you feedback, comments, suggestions and criticisms, you may find out a great deal about the way you teach classes.
Keep in mind that most students are crazy about their “first” dog obedience instructor. If that’s you, you’ve got it made. If it was someone else, then hold on to your hat, because you will have to “prove” yourself to this student. Anything you do differently will not automatically be viewed as an improvement. This student will ask the most questions. Be patient. He may not be trying to make you look like a fool, after all. He may only be trying to refute every method you use and reason you give. If the student can’t refute it, then it must be a valid idea, and you are accepted ¬you win! Then again, there are some students with whom you can never win, and I just group them in my “sour grapes” bunch. They’re either convinced that another method is better and yours is not even worth trying to refute, or they “know it all” because they breed German Shepherds and they trained one of them for obedience once, back in 1953. What I am trying to say is that you must learn to interpret the information on the evaluations. Some praises weigh heavier than others and some criticisms weigh heavier than others. Nice people will say nice things about your class and nasty people will say nasty things. Don’t take it personally. It has to do with THEIR self-concept, and you can’t change that. What you have to do is look at the overall picture. For instance, if a basically attentive, cheerful student hands in an evaluation with almost all fours (excellent) on it, with a two (fair) sticking out like a sore thumb, you had better check to see what you got the two on. If more than just a few people give you low marks on that one area, you should give some consideration as to how you could improve. If a “know it all” or “grouch” gives you all twos, don’t get frantic. It equals the same as all fours from the good student.
What questions do you ask on the evaluation? First, find out how many classes were attended and how many days the person did their homework each week. This will give you a hint as to whether you are being evaluated by a model student or a “slacker.” Then ask if the student plans to continue his training with your organization. This will tell you if you have a motivated student. Asking if the student will recommend this class to a friend will plant the seed in his head to do so, and will also tell you if you have a satisfied customer. Next, ask the student to name the most difficult, most interesting and least interesting exercise or aspect of the class. Ask what specifically they liked most about the class, and then ask for suggestions for improvement. You can make a numbered section (+4321-) and code it any way you like: Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree, or, Excellent to Poor. Have them rate your attitude, preparation, appearance, organization, presentation, ability and availability, as well as that of your assistants. Put it in the form of a statement or questions, such as, “Do you feel the class time was well spent?”
Keep the questions as basic and simple as possible. If there is one word in a sentence which people with a sixth grade reading level will not understand, they will automatically give that questions a “grey” answer, like a three (if you have one through five,) because they don’t know what you mean and don’t want to take the time to figure it out. It’s just easier to check a “middle of the road” answer and be done with it. Don’t take it personally.
At the bottom of the form, I have a place for the person to sign the evaluation if they want to, and put the date and class night on the form. This will help me in case I get the classes mixed up, and I’m trying to find out which assistant the student thought was so helpful.
Sometimes I get some really good ideas from the students. And, of course, I get my share of strokes, too. My favorite stroke is when I get a “second hand” student who writes, “Your method is soooo much gentler than the one at another obedience class I enrolled in and QUIT!” (Quoted from a student’s evaluation form.) The students tell me when what I do is working, and when something can be thrown out. Having used the evaluation form over the years has helped shape my classes, has kept me open to the idea of change and helped keep me on my toes. If you’re not using one now, I strongly recommend the implementation of a class evaluation sheet. After using one, see if the quality of your classes improves. It should.
©1989 Lonnie Morgan (Olson)