Student Reviews: Bad Reviews Are Earned Sometimes

By Randy Eldridge

“Mr. Eldridge has been the best instructor that I’ve had since I’ve been here.” Great, I remember thinking after reading that and several other positive comments. That comment will always stick with me. It was one of the very first student reviews that I received when I first began teaching. It was those remarks that made me begin thinking that maybe I was pretty good at this whole “teaching thing” and that perhaps I should pursue it as my main career. I mean, if those students loved me, they all would, right?

Well, not exactly. Student reviews can be quite upsetting for an adjunct. Especially an adjunct whose sole occupation is teaching. The reality is, if most of the student’s don’t like you, the chances of you continuing to teach at a particular school are pretty slim. Adjuncts rely on receiving positive student reviews as “proof” if you will, of connecting with students. Some schools rely more on them than others. One school that I worked at…which shall remain nameless…used them almost exclusively in deciding weather or not to offer courses to their teachers. Other schools, such as the primary one that I teach at now, take a more practical view of student reviews. Personally, I like this way much better.

The fact is, its human nature to want to be liked. That’s hard for me to admit. Ask my wife, she’ll tell you. I like to come home after a not so productive day with a difficult student or students and pretend it doesn’t affect me. I did that with probationers too. Not that I’m drawing any analogies, or anything. But not being liked does bother me. It bothers my coworkers and most of the other adjuncts that I know also. No one that I know wants to see themselves being called an awful teacher on some website somewhere!

My first bad review really bothered me. I mean, I was mad! I can’t say what the student said and the student actually cursed on the review! I was shocked. I was upset. Most of all, I wanted to find the student who’d said it and ask him what I could have possibly done to elicit profanity on a review. However, after much thought, I decided against it. Looking back at the class in which I received the negative comment, I have to say, it was pretty uneventful. It wasn’t the most exciting subject for students, but I enjoyed it. I tried hard to pinpoint what could have happened that caused that student to have such anger toward me. He was always pretty quiet in class. Turned in most of his work on time and did above average on the test.  I was clueless.

Through some investigative work, and other students telling me (students love to tell me things; I’m not sure why), it turns out this particular student felt like I’d ignored him and a few others in class. Really? Me!? My first reaction was to be defensive.

“That’s crazy” I remember thinking.

Then, after talking to my wife, who IS best at pointing out my flaws, she did point out to me that I probably did pay attention to certain outgoing students, and let the quiet ones stay quiet.

She was right. She usually is. Looking back, I remember a group of very engaged students. They were great! I enjoyed them. The reality is that I did spend too much time focusing on them. The quiet ones who came to class, did their work, and left were almost invisible to me. That was my mistake. I wasn’t given a bad review. I had earned a bad review.

That review taught me something. It taught me that quiet students need to be engaged proactively. That sometimes they depend on us, Adjuncts By Choice, to actively seek them out and encourage their participation. Sure, it seems like common sense. But as an adjunct teaching a full load of classes, it’s something that I must be cognizant of. Not only do I not want to get a bad review, I don’t want that student to feel like he’s being ignored. I remember what it was like as a student. There were some classes where I wanted to be left alone. There were others where I need a little coaxing. I felt his pain.

My friend Andrew is going back to graduate school. He’s an accountant, and lives out of state, so fortunately—or unfortunately for him—I won’t be his instructor. I gave him some advice: Make sure you communicate with your instructor. We’re not mind readers contrary to what many think. If you’re not happy, tell him! Don’t just give the poor guy or girl a bad review. Talk to him! His reply to me: “He’s the instructor! He should figure it out!”

Maybe that really is the bottom line. As professional educators, our responsibility is to serve the students to the best of our abilities. Some students will be more than happy to tell you exactly what they think of you and others will wait until the class is over and write it all down. Students do have a responsibility to do the work and participate. We have the job of educating them and making sure they understand the material. We are not there to simply entertain them and get excellent ratings. We’re there to teach. Seems pretty obvious. But with 20, 30 or more students in a class, sometimes even those of us with the best intentions earn our bad reviews.

How do you deal with bad student reviews? Does your school weigh them heavily in your evaluations? Do you think student reviews are fair in evaluating teachers? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences!

About the Adjunct By Choice: Randy Eldridge is an adjunct instructor and tutor. He teaches criminal justice courses leading to Associate’s and Bachelor’s Degrees. He earned a B.A. in Political Science from Capital University and an M.S. in Criminal Justice from the University of Cincinnati. Prior to entering the world of teaching, he worked as an Adult Probation officer for Butler County in Ohio. He is a U.S. Army and Desert Storm Veteran, serving four years on active duty. When he is not teaching, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter. He’s currently debating whether or not to pursue his Ph.D.

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4 Comments
  1. Randy Eldridge says

    Thanks for all of the great comments! Margaret, I taught at a school that used teaching reviews almost exclusively when deciding whether or not to bring a teacher back. I felt this was not only unfair to the teacher, but to the students as well.
    To the others, I understand it can be difficult as a student to confront a teacher….especially one that does not appear to very approachable to begin with. I think its importand for both students and instructors to understand that communication is a two-way process. A simple conversation can very easily clear up what appears to be difficult issues. Of course, being the pragmitist that I am, I also understand that this is usually easier said than done.

    Thanks for the feedback! I appreciate it.
    Randy

  2. Angela says

    Hi Randy!
    I really enjoyed reading your post. I’m 50 and almost complete with my BA. With the exception of a couple courses, I have been an online student for my entire higher education. As I understand your message, I too think it is the responsibility of the instructor to lead by example. Although many are qualified to teach at the college level as an adjunct, some must be doing so just for extra money rather than their love of teaching. A good example would be my current instructor. He is professionally high-end with many feathers in his seemingly inspiring cap. However, his engagement with other students is next to nil. I’d guesstimate less than 5 hours per week is being invested by this instructor in my class. Seems like an oxymoron to be taking a business creativity and innovation class where the instructor is FAR from creative or innovative much less inspiring. I foot the entire bill for my education. This 3 credit class cost me over $1,700. I would MUCH prefer an instructor that takes an interest in what he or she is supposed to be an expert in. I like hard work. I detest being graded by an individual that cannot even post hello to eight students. Although your suggestion to confront the instructor directly would seem the adult action to take, doing so before the end of the course has resulted (at least for me) in a less than favorable outcome with my GPA. Today, I keep my mouth shut and then blast (without profanity but with specific examples) AFTER the course has ended. Interestingly, this issue seems to be more of an issue in my higher division classes than it was in the lower division ones.

  3. Margaret says

    Hi Randy,
    Boy, do I know what you mean! The community college I taught at relied solely on student evals. Admin had a 2 page list of things you’d be evaluated on, and I did fine. But my student evals were mixed, 2 would be great, 1 would be ok. I finally was told I wasn’t going to be given any classes to teach based only on my student evals, not about whether I was a good teacher. I had been observed several times by admin and they all told me I was great. But students who I’d given low grades to, or who didn’t want to come to class at 9:30 am, or whom I’d caught seriously plagiarizing all gave me bad evals as did their friends. It really brought my eval scores down. And when I realized what was going on, and that nothing else counted, it was too late for me. I’d much prefer to teach at a school where student progress was more important, and where admin didn’t value student evals so much. It was particularly difficult because some of the students I taught were teens (16-18) and some were adults.

    Also, I started to give my students “comment cards” regularly during a quarter, which helped, unless they lied on the cards, and gave me a bad eval at the end of the quarter.
    Margaret

  4. Georgia says

    I teach online and I have developed a very easy way to get feedback from students as I go along – when it would be the most helpful, not after the fact.

    Every week I include a conference topic where people can talk about what worked best for them, what didn’t, and ask whatever questions they need to ask. If they need to “vent,” then they are welcome to do so.

    It is rare that people do the latter. Most of them politely ask questions that are very helpful to me because they cue me in to what I’ve been clear about and what I haven’t.

    When people DO “vent,” I acknowledge & validate their feelings even if their comments are off-base – i.e., it is clear that they misunderstood something. Misunderstandings always take TWO, so if someone has misunderstood it is likely I haven’t been clear. OR that person hasn’t read or paid close enough attention to very clear instructions. In the latter case I can point to where they can find those very clear instructions, ask them to read again, and then if they still don’t understand, I can work with them privately.

    If I ever teach in a classroom again, I would make it a hybrid of online and classroom, because the shyer students tend to find it easier to get a word in edgewise online than they do in a classroom, which is often dominated by the extroverts.

    I think teaching evaluations should be instructive but not PUNITIVE. That is, poor student evaluations should be treated as an opportunity to address the concerns and become a better teacher. When they are used punitively, administrators run the risk of eliminating good teachers who are judged poorly simply because the work is hard.

    There is plenty of evidence indicating that students who believe they are going to get a poor grade will evaluate their professors poorly, and vice versa. This is particularly a problem for female professors who are judged to be “unfeminine” (and therefore “out of bounds”) by students who are expecting female teachers to be “mother figures,” – i.e., will give them “unconditional love.”

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