Teacher evaluations

Don't waste your time

by Rob Horning

17 November 2005


This article about RateMyProfessors.com featured this quip:

And, while the student comments on RateMyProfessors.com may be akin to scrawlings in the library stacks, that doesn’t mean students don’t have anything useful to say or that you should take your cues from Stanley Fish, the dean at the University of Illinois in Chicago, who writes about throwing his student evaluations, unopened, into the trash.

I found this reassuring, because it is exactly what I would do with evaluations when I was a teacher. Nice to see I was unwittingly walking in the footsteps of one of the “greats.” (His work on Milton is great, anyway.)

No offense to my former students, but as I would usualy tell them during class, if they had something to say about my work as teacher, I’d much appreciate it if they would have the courage to tell me directly at some point—I didn’t go into hiding after the final exam, my office and my e-mail address was pretty much the same every year—and not hide behind some university mandated evaluation form and force me to look at all the non-education-related insults directed at me: the comments about my stupid hair or my stupid jokes. My female comrades in composition instruction told me they never got a batch of evaluations that didn’t demean or humiliate them in some way, reducing their effort to how much makeup they wore or how revealing their clothes were. What used to drive me crazy, and what helped drive me out of the education racket, was the thought that my performance would be evaluated in part according to these student evaluations and possibly my pay would be affected by them. At that point, it seemed to me that the lunatics were running the asylum, and that only a masochist would want to be a teacher.

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