Let me start by saying that I love my job. I love teaching. I love the research component because it's all mine, but I mostly love the classroom and the never-ending supply of young people. I've been in the game for 26 years and think I'm pretty sure I will teach until I retire several years from now.
It's been the greatest career, with dozens upon dozens of amazing experiences. Students continue to engage me and interest me, and watching find their own feet is always a tremendous pleasure.
But today I woke up with a knot in my stomach, and I was out of sorts all day. I was giving my students the evaluation instrument my college uses. As soon as the large white envelope came out of my bag the students started their energetic twittering. I even heard the same comments I always hear: "Yeah, now we get to give the grades," etc.
I always read the preamble that my college gives me to read, about anonymity, about how grateful we all are to gather comments. How we're eager to find ways in which to teach the courses better. There's even a line that reads, "Your instructor welcomes your criticism."
And of course it's all complete bullshit.
My students, for all of their sweetness and energy, don't have any idea whatsoever about my worth as a professor. They won't know what they've learned from me for many years. They certainly don't have the wherewithal or the experience to evaluate my performance in any meaningful way.
I have tenure now, but the evaluations end up in my Dean's file. I still see them each new term. I have to read things like, "She should wax her lip better," and "She should take better care of herself, so she could get another husband," and, "She should get a life and quit caring if I get my lab projects done in time. Lighten up, bitch."
And any goodwill my students earn is gone again after that. My numericals are always above my department average, and I have many wonderful comments each term. But it only takes a handful of comments or ratings to make me just want to puke my guts out and find a job consulting for one of the biotech firms where most of my former students find themselves down the road.
I've never understood why we do it? Why do we ask them the questions at all? Are we too lazy to evaluate ourselves? When I first started teaching, a mentor or colleague would visit every term, and I'd present a teaching portfolio (assignments, worksheets, and student work). My peers would meet with me to discuss my progress, and once a year I'd sit with my department chair or Dean and talk about things I could do to make myself a better instructor in future semesters.
But once I'd been in the game for a few years, Scantron evaluations seemed to overwhelm everything. Because they came out in digits, fractions, decimal points, they seemed to be real, to have weight. My 3.24 was worse than so-and-so's 3.50 for "shows respect to students," and so this information became something that was used against me, for me, whatever applied.
And ever since then I've felt horrible when student evaluations loomed. I thought more and more about them. I worried that I might be unkind when I would not allow a late presentation. Would a petulant and half-stoned student hang on to this imagined slight and blast me on evaluation day? They all seem to know it's coming. They all seem to light up. They continue to think that they're only doing what I do when I grade their work. And it's all wrong. It's so wrong-headed I can't even believe we fall for it.
When I talk about it in class - which I've not done for years - someone always says, "You must get bad evaluations." I've had colleagues say the same thing. That's not the point. I worry even more for young faculty. I see our newest colleagues here jump through hoops to please students, inviting whole lab sections out to coffee, bringing in donuts, allowing endless test and quiz retakes in the hallways of every classroom building for fear of what Missy and Michael Student might check off when evaluation season comes around.
I'm done for this term at least. But I just hated myself and my profession today, and were I a little wiser, I'd go about finding away to banish this useless practice.