Student Evaluations: What, Me Worry?

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Melissa_MillerBy Melissa Miller, Ed.D., M.Ed.

My e-mail inbox reads: Student Evaluations Now Available! Permission to freak out? Why do I feel as though I’m back in seventh grade, awaiting my report card and the teacher comments in the small box on the back? Ideally, evaluation responses should not be a surprise. As we tell our students, their grades should not be a surprise because we’ve been communicating throughout the semester, working together, and they know the scores they’ve earned. But with student evaluations, it feels like Russian Roulette – you never know what you’re going to get.

First of all, student evaluations are anonymous. I understand this, but I also feel it creates flawed data because students can “vent” and the professor has no way means of defense. Also, students may feel they can say things in the evaluation, but did they address these issues with the professor during the course? Sometimes we are left totally in the dark that a student feels a certain way or sees something in a certain light. Some may feel they can have a cathartic release of a “parting shot,” meanwhile we are left holding the bag a few weeks later when we receive the evaluation comments.

Second, obviously student evaluations come at the end of the course. This is understandable, but it is also when we all (teachers and students) are tired, stressed, and overwhelmed. Do students remember the time you stayed late for one-on-one tutoring, or the time you made extra copies for them of your lecture when they were sick? Or will they remember the “unfair” C on the final exam because the “mean” professor cares about stupid things such as following all of the task directions? I’ve had students question points deducted for a project – after they were allowed to revise and return it several times! So sometimes I question their frame of reference when it comes to completing an evaluation.

When you receive a great compliment from a student, one you know you deserved or worked hard for, it can be very rewarding. I am also open to honest feedback and like to read ideas and suggestions that have obviously been given time and thought. Misplaced criticism can take the wind out of your sails, however. I have to tell myself that I can’t please everyone, and my objective as their teacher is to educate, meet the course objectives, and perform the job to the best of my ability. The connection may not be made with some students, and no matter what you do for them, they may end the course with an ax to grind.

Finally, I’m unsure as to what the Department Chairs “do” exactly with these evaluations. Certainly, they pass them on to us, but I’m not sure what exactly is done with these evaluations and how they may affect my evaluation. As a former classroom teacher, I am used to being evaluated by a supervisor with a classroom observation, then a direct follow-up with a self-evaluation and a discussion. But the student evaluations just kind of hang out there in limbo and, as I said, you can’t defend or explain the circumstances. I assume department chairs take this into consideration, but you know what happens when you assume…

As educators, we put a lot of time and energy into completing student evaluations, whether it’s for an assignment or final grades. We take the time to write recommendations, referrals, and numerous other papers that require reflection about the student. When it comes to their evaluation of the class, all we can do is hope that they put the same time, effort, and consideration into their evaluation of us, our teaching, and our class.

About the New Adjunct: Dr. Melissa Miller completed her Ed.D. with an emphasis in Teacher Leadership from Walden University. She holds a M.Ed. from Mary Washington University and a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies from Virginia Tech. Dr. Miller’s professional and research interests include adult and online learning, professional development, and literacy. Presently, Dr. Miller works as an adjunct instructor and an evaluator, while also enjoying her role as a wife and mother.

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