Feedback, the Pandora's Box

Something happened today. But I must warn the reader in advance - this is not going to be a self-indulgent post. I don't know if I feel like writing it up at all, let alone publishing it. It's about something nobody wants to experience - the feeling of failure, guilt, bitter disappointment and despair. But deep inside I feel that putting it down may help in the end. Because nothing else is helping.

Today I had my penultimate lesson with my final year students. For the last couple of months they've been preparing for their school-leaving exam which they are going to sit next week. This exam has two alternatives - the state version and the school (profile) one. Nine out of 13 students have been preparing for the state alternative, two for the school one and two are not taking an exam in English at all. I know they've been under a lot of stress recently (and our lessons have been terribly exam-oriented), so I wanted to make the last lessons as relaxing as possible. So for today I had planned to play a nice video about London, which we finally watched. At the end of the lesson I asked the students what they wanted to do in the final lesson and they suggested we could go for an ice cream the next day (i.e. tomorrow). I didn't see why I should disagree.

By coincidence, earlier today my colleague had asked me if we could do a short feedback questionnaire before we watch the video. This is something all final year students do before they leave school. In this questionnaire they answer general questions concerning the overall atmosphere in the school and comment on the equipment, subjects and teachers. It's anonymous but students write by hand so obviously it's not difficult to find out who wrote what, especially in a class of 13. So the students know that everything they write may be traced back to their names. I don't want to judge the quality of such a questionnaire but that's the way it is and it's not terribly important at the moment.

My colleague, who teaches the other part of the same class, had already collected the questionnaires on Friday in her group. Every teacher has the right to see the answers related to his/her subject and all the results are finally processed, evaluated and discussed. So yes, today we finally did peep inside...... and we opened Pandora's Box......

I can't cite all the answers literally but some of the comments were really nasty and rude, definitely far from constructive. Just a few examples:

What would you improve? I'd slap around the head teacher and sack X and Y because they are snitches..... (my name included, probably because of an incident when I caught one student playing truant).
Who was your favourite teacher? X and Y because they weren't bastards.
Which lessons didn't you like? X because it was crap and especially the teacher was a bugger.

One of the comments addressed explicitly to me: All the lessons were totally useless and if I didn't attend an evening course, I would be totally lost..... Plus 'the teacher ignored the two students preparing for the school exam and worked exclusively with those preparing for the state alternative'.

Well, wondering why my heart aches?

First, I thought I had a good relationship with all the students.
Second, I thought I did my best to prepare them for the final exam and because both versions of the exam overlap a great deal, I didn't worry about those two (brilliant) students taking the school exam.
Third, I thought none of them would be capable of writing such rude comments. Why, they knew we would read them. Yes, I know what you think ..... they wanted us to read them.
Four, although most of the comments were neutral and some were positive (a nice teacher, interesting lessons), none of the students mentioned they had learned something at all!!!!!

Now, there are a million questions swirling in my head. First of all, is this kind of malicious feedback of any value to me and other teachers? And as Mike Griffin mentions in one of his posts: should any students be excluded from the opportunity to give feedback? What does this approach to feedback say about the students, myself and the society in general? Shall I dissociate from all the emotional impact it's had on me? Should I analyse the situation and take it strictly rationally?

And the most acute question shall I handle the situation tomorrow? We are going for an ice cream, remember?