Wednesday, May 27, 2009


I have a journal article I could be working on, but it's hard to get up the energy to go in to my office (I'm at home now). Because I have student evaluations almost certainly waiting for me.

I HATE student evaluations. Even when I get good comments (which I usually do), those are not the ones I's the bad comments, the ones that are written to vent rather than to be constructive criticism, that stick with me. They're the ones that keep me up at night, that make me wonder if I'm any good at all at what I'm doing. If maybe I should just hang it up and go do something else with my life because apparently I suck at this teaching thing.

I know that's not literally true, but it FEELS true when you are reading a comment from a student who says something like, "This class sucked. I don't know when I'm ever going to use any of the crap I learned."

One of the ongoing problems I have - and I really don't know how to overcome it, I've tried, is that I give other people's opinions far too much credence. I'm not good looking at what someone (anonymously) says about me and saying, "Well, that person obviously doesn't understand." Or "That person was probably unhappy because they weren't getting the grade they thought they were entitled to." Or "That person is an idiot." So evaluation time is ALWAYS uncomfortable for me, and I always have a hard time forcing myself to go in and read the comments.

I know someone who, after she made full professor, would just bung her comments in a drawer, unread, and leave them there. Her response being, "If they won't be made to sign their comments - to OWN what they said - I shouldn't be forced to read them." I kind of like the attitude in that although I understand the need for anonymous comments, in case you have a certain student in another class you teach.

But I do think the anonymity poses a problem, perhaps even more now in the days of the Internet: people have learned that the cloak of anonymity allows them to say things they might not otherwise say. And that's a double-edged sword. I can gently complain about what I think is a foolish decision on the part of the campus administration without fearing losing my job, but on the other hand, people can write horrible nasty things in comments on websites - stuff they'd never say to a person's face - and feel like no one can touch them. And I think evaluation comments are like that. From informal discussion with colleagues, it seems like the "mean" comments have gotten "meaner" in recent years - and that students feel no compunction against using profanity in their comments, which seems unprofessional to me. My secretary says she "rarely" edits when she types them up (though once she did not pass on a comment that was sexual in nature to one of the female profs. And seriously? What kind of a student would think it was acceptable to put that on an evaluation?)

So I really do need to go in and read those comments, though I kind of dread it. (I cried the first few times.) I really would like to get all positive comments although I realize that's not possible. The people-pleasing instinct is strong in me, but the high-standards instinct is fortunately a bit stronger. I just wish people could see my "toughness" or my "too much math" or my "too much information" as the fact that I have their best interests at heart, or my "needs to 'dumb down' the material more" as evidence that I think highly of their intellects and expect that they can rise to the requirements.

(I will admit at this point that I consider the "too much math" or "this class was hard" comments a bit of a badge of honor. OF COURSE it's supposed to be hard, it's a junior/senior level biology class! Of COURSE there's math in it, it's ECOLOGY for gosh sakes!)

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