Saturday, May 26, 2007

When Students Evaluate a Course, Are They Just Evaluating Themselves?

Who are you, and how did I fail you? A week ago I got my student evaluations. Your scores stood out like a sore thumb. In a sea of goods and excellents, you were the "major improvement needed." I wondered then, after a semester of lecturing to smiling students - granted some were smiling in their sleep - who you were, and if you'd ever acted like you weren't enjoying my class.

I know you never said anything about these grievances. Nothing out of the ordinary showed up in the midterm evaluations, or on the anonymous message board, or in an email or office hours or a conversation. Yet, it showed up today in the written portions of the evaluations. After reading student after student who said that this was a great class or commented on how much they learned or on how great I am as a teacher, there was you. When asked, "Would you recommend this class to a friend or roommate looking for an elective?" You replied, "Yes, if they don't really care about teaching quality."

I immediately beat myself up. I focused on you, the one out of forty who had nothing nice to say, the one out of a class of students who found my class worthless. I wondered how I'd failed you. Only now, as I write this, venting as I often do here, do I realize the answer. It's right in front of my eyes. When asked, "What were your expectations about the course, and were the fulfilled?" You said, "A blow off class, sort of."

I am sorry that I don't offer a blow off class and that those who do blow off the class get a lot less out of it. I actually care about the readings that I assign. I actually want you to do the work. I actually test you on the material, from both lectures and readings. I want you to be in class every day. When you're not there, and when you don't read, and when you don't participate - in other words, when you blow off the class - you're blowing off a fundamental part of education.

It's not all about what I can give you. The quality of the student is a huge part of the quality of the teacher, and I believe that if you think that I'm a crappy teacher it's because you were a crappy student. I made an effort, an effort to design an interesting course, to integrate exciting activities and illustrations, and to be there every day, to facilitate learning in and out of the classroom, and to listen to each of my students. Since you didn't make an effort to engage me, it shouldn't surprise me that I didn't engage you.