Editorial: The Power of Feedback - Lesson Learned

by Joe Raygor - University of Wisconsin - Stout student

What is the purpose of feedback?
The purpose of feedback is to provide information for someone’s performance to a task. Feedback is extremely useful for a student teacher because it offers insight from a more experienced teacher that can see situations from a different perspective. I am currently a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Stout enrolled in the Early Childhood Education program. From my courses, to hours working in the lab with children, to my pre-student teaching experience, I have observed that men and women in the program differ greatly in how they receive and use the feedback to increase their knowledge and practice regarding early childhood education.

Male Feedback
While I was growing up, certain values were taught to me at an early age that supposedly represented the “ideal” man. Toughness and grit were considered the highest priority of values for me to learn in order to become a man. These values were taught over and over again in athletics and the work force.  In learning these values I was told to not question authority but to commit completely to whoever was in charge.  For example, in athletics that meant listening to the coach for instructions.  If the coach would say “on the line” for wind sprints, I knew to sprint to the line and be ready to run. That was a part of being a member of the team and a man who was learning how to be tough.  Through this experience I began to learn what mutual respect was if I walked to the line the coach would blow the whistle and make the team run double. At this stage, I was also taught not to show emotions in athletics. If the team won an important game we were told to not celebrate loudly because of sportsmanship. If we lost a big game we were taught to not cry on the field and toughen up.  However, we were allowed to cry in a hidden hallway or back in the locker room if we were not capable of keeping it together. But once we left that hidden place, we were supposed to swallow the sadness and anger and walk with our chin up. I was being taught that emotions were not allowed if you wanted to be a tough man.
 
These lessons began when I was 13 years old in middle school and carried throughout high school. The lessons were drilled in my mind over and over again through the relationships I had with managers and male mentors. I was being taught that emotions were not allowed if you wanted to be a tough man.  

My Education Experience
Growing up in a small rural town in northwestern Wisconsin, there were not any male teachers; however in the district there were three male teachers.  It was not until I reached the fifth grade that I had a male teacher, Mr. Hoag, who was divided between two classes.  Mr. Hoag was my hero because I had never had a male teacher in my school career. Mr. Hoag was able to teach his classes in a unique way that allowed us to experience learning differently than anything we had encountered before.  He would play football with us at recess; dump our dirty desks over his head, and coach physical sports.  The biggest difference I noticed about Mr. Hoag was his tone of voice and the way he carried himself that was so different than any of my previous teachers. As a disclaimer, I want you to know I loved my teachers from kindergarten to the fourth grade; I even invited them to my high school graduation party.  But truth be told, I felt like I needed and desired a male presence.

Roofing Story

Perhaps the desire for a male presence in my life was one reason I took a job as a roofer when I was in high school. For high school boys, shingling was premiere work because crews paid cash and were willing to work around our sports schedules.  One memory regarding feedback remains clear to me.  I had one very long day carrying two bundles up the ladder over and over again and was glad the end of the day had come.  Clean up included getting the tools and equipment off of the roof as quickly as possible so everyone could get home.  The clean up process consisted of dropping the unopened bags of shingles off the roof to land flat on the ground unharmed. If the bundle landed at an angle when it hit the ground, the shingles would be ruined and the boss will lose money. There I was holding the 50 pound bundle straight out in front of me when one of my arms slipped and the bundle fell to the earth crashing and breaking. My boss looked over and offered me some feedback. The feedback however was not sandwiched with good news, bad news, and then lastly good news like we are taught in the classroom! The feedback was direct and contained explicit language. That was the normal type of feedback I received. Despite the feedback, good or bad, there was not time for crying or whining because I had continually been shown that men do not do that. So I received the feedback, “like a man”, went down the ladder, cleaned up my mess and was very happy the day was finally over.

College – Early Childhood

One way college students learn how to become successful teachers is to receive the feedback given by professors and cooperating teachers. Creating lesson plans is a process that requires an incredible amount of constructive criticism in order to make appropriate lessons. In our lives we plan for grocery shopping or sketch out our monthly calendars but we never get opportunities to plan how we will share and inspire knowledge with children until we write lesson plans.  This lesson planning is a skill that is taught through countless hours of lectures, classroom observations, and practice because “practice makes perfect”.

As a student teacher I may plan phenomenal lessons on paper only to find the lesson goes array in the classroom. After failing, I often go back to the drawing board to improve my planning and fix the lesson. I work to perfect the lesson over and over again until it is successful realizing it is part of the process that will make me a good teacher.

I have noticed when an ECE professor grades my lesson plan and gives me verbal feedback my reactions to the feedback differ from the majority of the women in my class.  It appears that women tend to take the professor’s criticism to heart more so than my male peers. Since I have been at the University of Wisconsin-Stout I have only had two male instructors for two courses: Education Psychology and Children’s Literature.  Female instructors have taught all of my other classes, which include labs with extensive lesson planning.  As well, 100 percent of the teachers in the field I observe and work with are female teachers.
I have noticed that when female professors deliver constructive criticism it is done in a way that I am not accustomed to. My male coaches and managers were harsher, to the point, and cold when delivering feedback. However, in the Early Childhood Program, I receive much more nurturing and positive feedback.  I also have observed that the female   professors who deliver feedback straight to the point and skip the pleasantries seem to be viewed as less popular instructors in the program by the female students. However, we male students view these instructors as a fresh change from the years of insensitivity and harsh working conditions we have been accustomed to.

For me, I believe that previous experience regarding feedback from males creates an advantage over the females in the program. For example, I taught a lesson at our family study center on addition using caterpillar cutouts and pompoms but it was a complete failure!  My planning for the lesson was simply not good enough but throughout the lesson my head teacher kept coaxing me through it.  She was smiling because she knew that this was a part of the process of becoming a better teacher.  When we discussed the lesson, I was relieved that there was no swearing or negativity but welcomed the constructive criticism.  The next day I met with the teacher to discuss the lesson and took notes on how I could improve.  I never felt threatened by the teacher.  Based on my past experiences, I believe I am hardwired to filter out the compliments and search for the main points that I need to fix in my lessons and teaching.  One difference I see in the female classmates is that they seem to need that positive language in order to accept the feedback and tend to shy away from discussing specific points they need to improve on. It is my belief that this may steer them away from the main reason for feedback, learning how to become a great teacher. I am just glad that the female professors are not negative because it makes acceptance of the feedback easier      

Impact as a Future Teacher
My experiences regarding feedback will impact me as a teacher in how I talk to and give feedback to my future students.  I see myself as a teacher who will be firm and bring a masculine tone to the classroom for all students to encounter.  I will talk about phrases like toughness, fortitude, and grit on a regular basis.  Although I will teach toughness in a sense, I will also encourage male students to express their feelings and emotions through their work.  I strive to be the male presence that tells young male students to not shy away from their sadness but rather find an outlet to express it.

[MenTeach: Dr. Jill is director of the Early Childhood program at University of Wisconsin - Stout and has been working to increase and retain men in her education program. We asked her to write about her experiences as a woman facilitator. You can find the other articles here.]