It takes a certain amount of courage to talk with students about course evaluation results. I’m thinking here more about formative feedback the teacher solicits
Shortly after 2000, higher education institutions started transitioning from paper and pencil student-rating forms to online systems. The online option has administrative efficiency and economics
I always hesitate to do posts on student ratings. Every teacher has opinions, a lot of which aren’t supported by the research. But
I remember my first year as a tenure-track professor as a nightmare. For reasons I won’t belabor, my teaching stunk. During class, my face was red and hot with humiliation as I fumbled through the content. During lectures, I prayed that no one would ask me a question that I couldn’t answer. They always did. At night tears splashed as I tried to piece together lessons.
I expected a reckoning on my course evaluations, but the results were way worse than I expected. The students hated me. As colleagues prepared for the summer break, I slumped in my chair reviewing their harsh (but true) comments about disorganized presentations, lack of preparation, and “tragic incompetence.” Their words stung like YouTube comments as I read them over and over again. I couldn’t stop punishing myself for a job poorly done. “Maybe this isn’t the job for me,” I whined to anyone who would listen.
Finally, after a summer spent sulking, I decided to pick up the pieces and try to recover professionally. Like any good millennial, I started by googling “how to recover from poor teaching evaluations” and “is tenure still possible after low evaluations” but found nothing.
I decided to find the way out on my own, and I have. Memories of that disheartening quarter still make my stomach turn, but I have recovered and learned to use my course evaluations as a tool for growth. I’d like to share the process I use.
It has been four years since I sat heartbroken in my office, and although negative comments from students still sting, I no longer let them dictate how I evaluate a course. I have learned to trust my own instincts about what is best for my students. I’ve learned from my experiences and gotten better at my job. My advice to a young professor devastated by a batch of bad evaluations? Know that this one course will not define you. Your job as a professor is to make steady and measurable progress. You will be fine. Years’ worth of courses lie ahead. Some will be great, and others will not. Let this experience humble you, but do not let it stop you. Evaluations can be a part of your growth and development as a teacher; take the bits that serve you and let the rest go.
Emily Dosmar, PhD, is an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Indiana. Her teaching interests include classroom gamification, ungrading, and project-based learning.