So now is the time when students get to tell the unvarnished truth about their assessments of us as teachers. I do recall that quite a lot of people told me to brace myself when reading through my first set of student evaluations. Everyone agreed that it would inevitably be the case that no matter how many nice comments I received, there would always be that one. I also recall that people had mixed views on the relevance of student evaluations.
On this point, there continues to be a lot of debate about whether or not student evaluations provide a good assessment of a person’s teaching ability. Certainly as a student I never really considered that my comments could have an impact on a person’s career, and hence viewed it as my chance to vent or praise as the case may be. Then too, there is some truth to the notion that some students may not appreciate all they have learned from a person until well after they have graduated, and possibly because of this we may need to discount their comments. I also think it is possible that some students may use the evaluation process to comment on things that may not necessarily have anything to do with a person’s teaching. Quite frankly, the only student evaluation I can clearly remember providing is the one for the professor whose class I found excruciatingly boring. However, reflecting back I think I learned more from him than I did from the professor who everyone agreed was entertaining (though I think there are people who manage to be both entertaining and informative).
Having said all that, though, I do think that student evaluations are important. They give the students the ability to speak their mind, and more importantly, they provide important feedback. For the most part, teaching is something we do without anyone looking over our shoulder. So it is good that the “consumers” of our product are able to tell us how they feel, even if you need to discount some of it. Moreover, some students do take the process seriously and provide comments that are useful going forward. It is important to know if students think the material was too dense, too unorganized or gone over too quickly. So whether or not one believes that evaluations are a good reflection of a person’s teaching abilities, I think the process is a critical aspect of teaching.
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