Even More on Student Evaluations

I am absolutely convinced that all of this endless belly-aching about the horrible unfairness of student evaluations comes from people who are shitty teachers. Be a good teacher, and students will adore you and write you the kind of evaluations that will make you and your tenure committee weep.

Here are some alternatives to student evaluations the article proposes:

To do a review of the materials that professors use to create classes.

“Show me your stuff,” Stark says. “Syllabi, handouts, exams, video recordings of class, samples of students’ work.”

First of all, who in the fuck’s name are you and why should you opinion matter more than that of my students who were actually in the classroom? Second of all, what a great joy it will be to have one’s work evaluated by somebody who thinks that teaching is about syllabi, handouts and exams.

“Let me know how your students do when they graduate.”

How do they do what, doofus? Speak Spanish? Save for tracking them down all over the planet and speaking to them, there is no way whatsoever to measure that.

“That seems like a much more holistic appraisal than simply asking students what they think.”

I’m sure this creature gets really sucky student evaluations. And I’m sure it never occurs to him that this happens because he despises the idea of asking students what they think so much.

According to the idiots who inspired this article, students are incapable of forming an opinion on the quality of teaching but they can be used to spy on professors:

Both Pellizzari and Stark agree that student surveys should be used in a much more limited way, to capture student satisfaction. And they could perhaps be used to gather information on factual points like whether the professor showed up on time or canceled class more than once or twice.

I really like the phrase “gather information.” What a great way to foster a good working environment in the classroom. Just use students to gather information on professors. Who cares about their stupid opinions when they can be used to gather info?

What lies behind this approach is, of course, a profound contempt for students:

“If you make your students do well in their academic career, you get worse evaluations from your students,” Pellizzari said. Students, by and large, don’t enjoy learning from a taskmaster, even if it does them some good.”

In my long teaching experience, students really want to learn and appreciate educators who teach them well. I meet an exception to this rule maybe once a year and normally end up discovering that the student’s problem was none other than my incapacity to engage.

8 thoughts on “Even More on Student Evaluations

  1. “…the student’s problem was none other than my incapacity to engage.”

    If by this you mean that your use of language is so incompatible with the student’s understanding of it, then I certainly agree. In lower level courses I often have what would be called bimodal distributions on my student evaluations. A significant minority of students declare that I cannot teach at all. A larger minority say I am the best teacher they have ever had a course with. Even after almost fifty years of teaching, I have not solved this problem.

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    1. I am bimodal, too, at lower levels. There is a faction that thinks teaching is essentially “content delivery” and test prep. They want to memorize information and then repeat for a test. My courses are not really like that. In a relaxed semester I can cajole these students along and often convert them, but some semesters, if we are all under a lot of pressure, I end up in a standoff with this type. They think I am “disorganized” and “unclear” because I am not doing the content delivery and test prep mode. And I think they are not holding up their end of the bargain as college students because they lack independence, don’t want to think, etc.

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  2. I can always tell a good professor from a bad professor right at the beginning of the term, when they’re talking about their previous student evaluations. One of my favourite professors said “Now, last semester on my student evaluations, it said that sometimes I can talk too fast, so, please, stop me if you don’t understand, and I’ll slow it down”. A professor I have a less-than-satisfied set of experiences with said, first day of class, “Last semester some students complained on their evaluations about me letting some people take up most of the class time. *hand wave* Nothing I can do about that, kids, you have to be the ones to engage and participate, it’s not my job to get you into it.”
    Student evaluations help good professors get feedback! Students aren’t out on some vendetta to ruin your career or make you pay for a C grade.

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      1. What was really telling to me was that professor #2 referred to us repeatedly as “kids”, and always made it a point to stress the generational difference between herself and us, even though she was only in her late 30s. If she thinks a group full of twenty-somethings are too young to be taken seriously and have their opinions factored in, I wonder how she interacts with actual people under 18…

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    1. I actually do unofficial course evaluations about 1/4 or 1/3 of the way through the semester. This is very useful feedback and is early enough that I can actually implement changes in class and make a difference for the students. I believe they appreciate it, and I get some of the best feedback on those, because they feel invested.

      I hate articles like the one Clarissa quotes, they show disdain for student and a belief that students just want to get by with as little work as possible and are for some reason out to get professors who challenge them. While there is an occasional student who is not in college for the right reasons, most of them want to learn the material and respond well to being both challenged and treated with respect. In fact, I find that most student understand that if you respect them and believe that they have the ability to do well, you will challenge them.

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  3. I don’t pay a huge amount of attention to official evaluations (I don’t ignore them, but I have a bunch of filters in place to help interpret the raw numbers) and I don’t talk about them in class (talking about formal evaluations seems a little unprofessional to me….).

    I might mention specific face to face criticism I’ve gotten from students and/or colleagues, like “you jump around too much” (yeah, I find it very hard to stay in one place in class and almost cannot sit at all) or (this was really helpful) “you write stuff down and then erase it too quickly” (way too true and I’m working on it).

    I use to almost beg for feedback and never got it, though the last time I asked I did get some helpful comments so I should do that more.

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