Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Unconstructive Criticism

One of the things about teaching college students is that I am subject to teacher/course evaluations after each course is completed. I only read the evaluations; I don't read the awful Rate Your Professor websites. Those websites are run by college students who obviously have no idea what it is like to be teachers. Even though I do believe in free speech, at the same time I don't appreciate having my reputation trashed on the Internet. (I've heard that the websites get a lot of new comments after final grades are posted. Coincidence?)

I've been getting a lot more positive evaluations since I first started teaching, and I've gotten some constructive criticism too. It helps to know if the students would prefer to use more outside articles in class, or if they found the group work to be helpful. It's good to know if they want to spend more time learning how to review their peers' papers.

On the other hand, a lot of the time I get nasty comments from disgruntled students; they typically read something like this:

She is a BAD PROFESSOR because she only cares about stupid stuff like citing sources and thesis statements. It's not like I'm ever going to write another paper after this class. I'm going to be a ROCK STAR and I don't even need this class.

She's too condescending because she wouldn't change my grade. She gave me a D which I DID NOT DESERVE. It's not MY fault if I turned in the paper late. I have other homework and I can't be expected to turn in everything on time.

She is too young to be teaching college. I know WAY MORE than she does, because I took AP English and I got a B in it. (Yeah, that's the same as getting a master's degree and a Ph.D. in English.)

She is MEAN. She got mad at me for sleeping in class. I don't feel I should be disciplined for that, especially since I did show up for class every day. (You mean you slept through class every day.)

She gave me bad grades because I didn't profreed. Why should I care about grammer anyway? I wont need it when I become riche.

She kept calling on students who she should have given up on. She ignored students like me, and that's not fair because I am always right. (This was from a student who got mad if I didn't call on him for every question, and would actually interrupt other students when they tried to answer questions.)

She was never available for office hours. (This was from a student who didn't show up for an appointment because she said she forgot about it, and she got mad because I wasn't willing to wait an additional three hours for a more convenient time for her to stop by.)

Reading evaluations like these drive me up the wall, especially because my department supervisors read them. At some schools (though not the ones where I teach, at least I don't think), how many classes you get (if any) depends largely on student evaluations.

I admit that it does sting to read the nasty evaluations, because no one likes to read mean things about themselves. For me, the most important things are making sure my students learn what they're supposed to learn, and making sure that they respect my role as the teacher. Making sure they like me is less important, though it's not like I'm unfair or cruel to any of them.

I've actually had more than one student say to me, "You shouldn't be so strict with us. Our tuition pays for your salary." Really? So does that make you my boss? Maybe I should give you an A right now, even if you did show up late every day, spent more time texting than taking notes, and didn't even bother to bring the textbook to class most of the time. It's not like you're in class to LEARN, right?


  1. I admit I do use rate my professor. But I promise I don't always write bad things! As a current student at a university that has a lot of adjunct profs I know they have difficult schedules to maintain. Availability and office hours are really important to me, but I've never had a prof who didn't take the time to detail when they were available or even offer extra times to meet during the week. Too many of my fellow classmates seem to be unreasonably hard on profs. On behalf of your students I apologzie for us all ;) When I do leave comments on rate my professor though, I try to be fair and add in constructive things. I know many of them read it.


  2. i TOTALLY know how you feel. my first semester teaching not many students filled out evaluations but I had one who wrote that obviously i shouldn't be talking in front of an audience because I appeared too nervous (it was my first semester teaching!!) and also complained that i didn't know his grade off the top of my head. UGH. it's so frustrating. i wish they would be more constructive...

  3. I was an orientation counselor in undergrad and we made a point every year saying the Ratemy professor was a load of crap and should be ignored. I feel your pain. My partner is a professor, luckily his school is a small public and the students are really greatful. Entitled brats.

  4. Love the "profreed" comment! I think if any1 w/ a grain of intelligence reads these remarks they can see it goes boomeranging right back to the student/complainer!

  5. Hi Delilah,
    I know of several professors who read it; I've heard of a couple who post their own comments, usually in response to the students. But I did hear of one professor who said it was possible for professors to pretend to be students and post great comments about themselves. Not that I'd do it, of course. :)

    Hi Catherine,
    I know! I don't mind criticism as long as it's something I can actually use. Either way, it's never really fun to read the evaluations.

    Hi Geophrie,
    Unfortunately, entitlement is a problem with some students. That's why students often say, "I don't think I got the grade I deserved," as if they think that they "deserve" an A.

    Hi KarenG,
    I'd like to say I was exaggerating about the evaluations. Unfortunately, I have had worse ones. But fortunately I've gotten some good ones too.

    Hi notesfromnadir,
    Most of my fellow instructors say that the evaluations reveal more about the students than about the teacher, but some schools do take it seriously (a little too seriously, I think0.

  6. You're killing me! I actually have tears in my eyes. You have one of my favorite blogs because your humor in the absurd is inspirational. Truly.

    Some gems:

    "I'm going to be a ROCK STAR and I don't even need this class."

    The poster.

    "It's not MY fault if I turned in the paper late. I have other homework and I can't be expected to turn in everything on time." (Yeah, try handing his grade after the semester is over and see how he feels about justifying lateness.)

    I got evaluated as a teaching fellow at Harvard one semester. Of the six fellows, my evaluations were the highest (big ego boost for me). But the professor, who was the most awesome professor on the planet, who gave interesting lessons, planned strategies with his fellows, made sure to be available for students, and so on - got some scathing reviews. Mostly because it was a Core class, which meant it was supposed to be "easy" but it wasn't. Too bad, students!

  7. Hi Theresa,
    Thanks for the compliment! I love your blog too. :)

    Several of my students give me so many excuses about turning in work late, but they always expect me to have their work graded right away, as if I can grade fifty papers in one day.

    I teach mainly core classes, which might be one reason a few students give me negative reviews; some of them have said they feel they shouldn't have to take core classes. But they're wrong.