Skip to main content

Taking Student Praise

If there's one thing I find difficult to do as a teacher, it is taking student praise.  This is example of a humblebrag, a newer word in the English lexicon. The truth is that I was raised in a household where praise was restrained and mainly reserved for achievements that clearly exceeded expectations. Actually, I find it more difficult to give praise than to receive praise because of this upbringing. It took me a few years to praise students who adequately met my expectations.

Student Praise

Last term, I had a very rewarding experience teaching English to a relatively small but dedicated group of students. This combination of class size and student motivation helped me meet the linguistic, academic, and cultural needs of each student more effectively than in most other classes. Most of the students preferred this extra attention to their needs and skills, but there was one that didn't want me to get to know his learning and studying strategies too well. 

I had two very high performing students in this class. One had excellent note-taking strategies that went above and beyond almost all the students I have ever taught in my 15+ years of teaching. The other had a greater understanding of pedagogy and language learning than most students. In addition, she had a personal and professional interest in education technology. For me, it is rare to find a student so plugged into teaching, learning, and technology in a way that matches my professional learning interests.

When this wonderful class ended, it seemed that we were in denial.  Nobody wanted to say "goodbye," and I hoped that I would see many of them in future classes.  A few days after our last day of class, I received the following email message:
I was very touched by this message, and I felt a mix of emotions, including appreciation, sadness, and validation. I appreciated that student and the whole class in general. I also felt sad because I remember having similar students in previous institutions in the US and overseas, and I wanted to hold on to the moment cherishing them all.  The least humble emotion was validation because I serve as curriculum coordinator and her praise validates my teaching background and philosophy. However, this feeling of validation was followed by disgust because that's not the emotion I wanted to feel. I wanted to appreciate my genuine connection with the students more than feeling proud of myself.

That's why this is a humblebrag.  If pride was not my goal, then why am I sharing this student's praise on my blog. The purpose is to demonstrate the mix of emotions that I feel.  How many or what proportion of teachers get a guilty conscience when receiving high praise like this?

Praise as Evidence

I had a professor that told me to always keep and collect student praise like this as evidence of my teaching effectiveness.  But I don't recall sharing them with my supervisors or to search committees for teaching jobs. They do get to see or request my statistics from student evaluations, but many people including myself see little value in these evaluations, especially from students who may not understand them well enough linguistically and culturally. Even as a supervisor, I tend to rely a bit more on qualitative assessment of teaching effectiveness more than quantitative. My background in culturally responsive teaching has taught me that the connection with and expectations for students is much more valuable than the content itself. If a teacher cannot engage students, then quality learning cannot take place for the most part.

In contrast to the last paragraph, I am also a skeptical person and tend to value statistical evidence over anecdotal evidence. Because of this, my gut reaction is to pay little attention to student praise until it becomes a reliable pattern. I have to remind myself that teaching and learning is more about human nature, which is messy, than it is about the exchange of information, which is easier to control and measure. Teachers must be good at both, but I've learned that the art of teaching (human nature) is usually what keeps students engaged and coming for more, which provides a nice positive feedback loop for the teacher and the institution.


Popular posts from this blog

Are you an Open Educator?

Image from What is an Open Educator? According to a recently published article from the International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning (IRRODL):

An Open Educator chooses to use open approaches, when possible and appropriate, with the aim to remove all unnecessary barriers to learning. He/she works through an open online identity and relies on online social networking to enrich and implement his/her work, understanding that collaboration bears a responsibility towards the work of others.

Does this sound attractive for English language teachers? It seems to some who offer courses through or with YouTube. But what does it mean "to remove all unnecessary barriers to learning?" Working for free? Not necessarily. If you read the article, it seems you'd be working on a sliding scale depending on the socioeconomic status of the learners, but this sliding scale is a sliding slope. How can poor le…

Engagement with Research as Professional Development

Last Thursday, I was reviewing literature for a research project that is just underway, and I came across a couple tables that resonated with me so much that I had to share it on Twitter. The tables come from Simon Borg's 2010 article "Language Teacher Research Engagement."

These tables would have come in handy if I had found them prior to my research project with teachers at an intensive English program (IEP) in the United States. They would have supported my professional learning and curriculum development philosophies as an administrator because I believe these two areas, professional learning and curriculum development, should have strongly overlapping goals as an English language teacher. Furthermore, I believe that it is in the best interest of an institution to support this in order to improve the curriculum. This belief is based on the assumption that curriculum is not static because is based on the needs of the learners, which are dynamic, as well as the resear…

Revisiting Multiliteracies & Moving On

I have been interested in a multiliteracies approach to English language learning and teaching for almost a decade now. I've been blogging about it since 2010 and I gave a presentation on this for two conferences in Iowa. I decided to put this interest aside so I could complete my dissertation on another topic and search for jobs. Now that a few years have passed, I'd like to share how my interest has changed.

The foundation of my interest is best represented by the Prezi I made (below) for my 2010 MIDTESOL Conference presentation:

My primary reference was Stuart Selber's 2004 book Multiliteracies for a Digital Age, published by Southern Illinois University Press. While working for the Kirkwood Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (KCELT), I found some similarities between my highlighted concepts from Selber's book and the Framework for 21st Century Learning, which you can view at The third category (Information, Med…