Evaluations, Again

I know I do this every semester but I’ll keep doing it because it brings me joy. I just got back my student evaluations for last semester, and every single one of them is glowing. I had 72 students last semester in two very difficult courses (the third is independent research and we don’t get evaluated on it for some mysterious reason). One is hybrid format, meaning many of the lectures are online, and everybody hates that. Plus, it had a huge writing component that everybody failed all the time at first. Another one is very content-heavy, a ton of readings, a ton of information. In the hybrid course, the students are not our majors or minors. These are students from all kinds of disciplines with no previous knowledge of Hispanic Studies and no particular interest. It’s just a requirement for them.

And every single evaluation, without even one exception, is spectacular. Mind you, I’m a bitch of a grader. There were people writing those evaluations who were failing the course. You’d expect one or two people at least to be less than ecstatic. But no. They were all super happy with the course and loved me. It does feel good.

This is why I can’t get on board with this “truth universally acknowledged” that female professors are punished in evaluations because students perceive them as less intelligent or worthy of respect as men. Or that immigrant professors are punished because they have accents (the hybrid course was in English).

And I’ll keep writing this repetitive post until I figure it out. The last conversation I had about the gender unfairness of evaluations was yesterday. This is talked about all the time. And I’m not seeing it.

I wonder if people sometimes wonder, deep inside, maybe, if it’s not the gender or the accent or having high standards but something different. Most of us get zero training in actual teaching, after all. Just saying.

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6 thoughts on “Evaluations, Again”

  1. Most of us get zero training in actual teaching, after all. Just saying.

    I got a significant amount of training on “How to teach” when I was a TA. I think the only grad students who did not were those on fellowships who never had any teaching duties.

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  2. The more demanding or specialized the course, the better the evaluations, generally speaking. You’ve also got to exude confidence and fun, alongside the feeling of learning and growing. And reach out to all individuals. If there is a battle about how courses should be taught, you have to win that — if actually good practices aren’t felt to be good by the majority in unit, such that you are a minority, you have to be very convincing. It has to do with magnetism and a very strong sense of identity. I think also a sort of preternatural commitment to field is an important factor too, thinking back on very high evaluation getters I have known. They feel that what they are doing is super important and they are sure the weight and tradition of the field is behind them, and it rubs off. Other people can be very good too, just slightly off all of this, and get a reaction that falls much flatter.

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    1. This is spot on. I perceive myself as this super important scholar, which might be quite deluded, by students read the perception and are in awe.

      Absolutely. This is a very insightful comment.

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      1. Of course there are also mundane things that drive evaluations, like bad news (e.g. tuition hikes) outside your control that put students in a bad (or good, depending on what it is) mood; whether some high, culminating, good-feeling thing has just happened in the course, or not, or the opposite; whether the evaluation is their only chance to vent or not.

        I don’t try to control for this stuff any more but when I didn’t have tenure and evaluations really mattered, and I didn’t always get to choose my own course materials, I sometimes asked students, if they could, to separate thoughts on materials from thoughts on what we actually did. Personally I have always had a hard time getting good evaluations in required gen-ed type courses, except when I was super young, brash and enthusiastic and not afraid of anything yet, and my confidence would win people over.

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  3. I think perhaps the biasing of women’s teaching evals doesn’t happen for the extreme upper end of quality, which evidently is where you are at! Maybe it’s more of an issue for more average (or below-average) instructors? I also worked my students to the bone last semester, and got spectacular evals, and I am a woman teaching physics, and this is my first semester. So clearly it can be done. However, I also won a TA award once, basically because they had never had a female physics TA that was liked/respected/effective in that class… (which was not terribly satisfying to hear). So I do think there are some systematic problems.

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  4. There are also contextual things, times when being a woman and younger gets you points, when all their other professors are old guys; in my current place there is a type of student who simply assumes men know more (I know I am known as La Señora and my colleague is El Doctor, whereas I am actually the PhD), but that hasn’t been the case everywhere I’ve worked.

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