“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.