Education Opinion

Take Student Complaints With Caution

By Walt Gardner — October 17, 2012 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

How much weight should be given to student complaints about their teachers? I ask that question because the evaluation of teachers in the years ahead is expected to include input from students in addition to input from principals, peers and parents (“Seeking Aid, School Districts Change Teacher Evaluations,” The New York Times, Oct. 16). I welcome the change. But I have reservations about placing inordinate reliance on student comments.

Although students spend considerable face time with teachers, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are able to judge their teachers fairly. Take the most familiar complaint that a teacher is boring. A study published in “Perspectives on Psychological Science” found that boredom often arises from stress (“Studies Link Students’ Boredom to Stress, Education Week, Oct. 10). If so, then teachers are likely to be downgraded when they are not always to blame.

When I was teaching, the first period of the day frequently consisted of students who happened to come from extremely disadvantaged backgrounds. The roster indicated that many of them lived in one-parent homes. No matter how hard I tried to make the material interesting, they showed the classic signs of boredom. If they had been asked to rate my instruction, I’m quite certain they would have given me a low grade. Yet I was not responsible for the stress they were feeling because of their personal lives outside the classroom.

Reformers will hasten to point out that acknowledging that fact will be used by teachers as an excuse for their ineffectiveness. Fair enough. Nevertheless, stress cannot be denied. In the class I described above, I had one student who often asked me if he could go to the library. Ordinarily, I would have denied such a request. But I consented when he told me that he worked on the docks at night in order to bring home badly needed income for his mother and siblings. As a result, he was exhausted and used the library’s back room to sleep. (I helped him with the work he missed.) If I had denied his plea, he would have likely told his counselor that my class was boring. That’s because mental fog caused by lack of sleep makes it nearly impossible to process knowledge being taught.

Stress takes many forms, both subtle and overt. But dismissing stress as irrelevant is particularly risky today because of the increasing rate of childhood poverty, which is now 22 percent (“More than 1 in 5 kids live in poverty,” USA Today, Jun. 08, 2010). When students go to school without a good night’s sleep and nutritious breakfast, they can’t properly learn what is being taught. Even the best teachers are not able to overcome these deficits. That’s why I urge caution in considering student claims about boredom.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Evaluating Equity to Drive District-Wide Action this School Year
Educational leaders are charged with ensuring all students receive equitable access to a high-quality education. Yet equity is more than an action. It is a lens through which we continuously review instructional practices and student
Content provided by BetterLesson
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attendance Awareness Month: The Research Behind Effective Interventions
More than a year has passed since American schools were abruptly closed to halt the spread of COVID-19. Many children have been out of regular school for most, or even all, of that time. Some
Content provided by AllHere

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP