The New Adjunct: Rate Your Professor – It's All About Perspective

photoBy Kathy McBrayer, M.Ed., SPHR
I am at a unique time in my career as an adjunct professor.  Not only am I a new adjunct professor, but I am also the mother of a new college student; my son will be a freshman in the fall.  This situation provides a different perspective for me than when my older daughter went off to college.  Then, I was not teaching at the college level, but busy with my corporate business career.  So while my daughter went through many of the same in-coming freshman activities, my reference point was very different.  Let me give you an example.
My son is getting ready to attend freshman orientation this month.  Sounds pretty harmless, right?  Well, one of the highlights of orientation is the opportunity to pre-register for classes (no last minute registration struggles mere days before the semester starts.)  So, like many other college students these days, my son is doing his homework (pun intended); which professors should he avoid in the classroom versus those he should seek out.  The source of information?  The plethora of Internet sites where students rate their professors.  All of a sudden, this is becoming quite personal to me!
These professor rating sites are fueled by comments regarding student experiences with the class and the professor.  Here, current and former students share their opinions with the rest of the college attending world or anyone else who is interested enough to follow along.  Topics range from how hard the teacher grades, to the structure of tests, to the proficiency of the teacher’s English.  You name it, and the opinions on these sites seem to cover the gamut.
Over the last few weeks, I have begun a love-hate relationship with these types of sites! You see, the parent side of me loves the information.  Anything to help steer my “little boy” away from the clutches of the evil professor —  you know, the one out there dying to crater his precious GPA through a variety of means (that would never be any of us, of course).  But the professor side of me despises these sites that give voice to the disgruntled, lazy student who blames the professor for his or her lack of ambition and effort!
Okay, I admit my last statement was a bit unfair.  But are these sites friends or foe to me?  Should I steer clear of these sites in an effort to keep my fragile self-esteem intact during my early days as a professor?  Or should I plunge in and seek the feedback in an effort to improve?  This was so much easier when my perspective was just from a parental role.  Being an adjunct professor has made this complicated for me!
So what do I do?  Well…both.  I steer clear of the comments and plunge in and embrace the feedback.
It’s tricky to ignore and embrace the feedback, all at the same time.  But my strategy for doing this has been to start with the “embrace.”   Along with the end-of-course feedback I receive each semester from my university administration, I read all comments related to my teaching and do some serious soul searching.  (I have found this works best if it has been at least a few weeks since the class has ended…I do need a little breathing space!).  I then ask myself, could some of the comments actually be true from another perspective? Could my essay directions really be too vague?  Do my critical thinking expectations exceed the general undergraduate student’s ability? Are my grading criteria reasonable?  This type of self assessment is critical if I am ever to be a great professor.  Jim Collins, the author several books including  Good to Great, found that great leaders look out the window to attribute success to factors other than themselves.  But when things go badly, they look in the mirror and blame themselves, taking full responsibility.  I try to remember this as I go about leading my students.
So, after great reflection, I then go to the “ignore” part of my strategy for addressing some of the comments.  Let’s face it, some of the student feedback I receive should not be acted upon.  While technically anonymous comments, I can often tell exactly who made the negative remark.  And yes, he/she did not put in the effort or time to produce a solid essay, did not bother to come to class (yet expected to slide by), and often refused to push beyond the minimum work needed to satisfy the requirements.  These types of students earned the experience and grade received in my class.  I need to leave those comments behind and not let them weigh me down.
This Jekyll and Hyde type of perspective is exhausting!  Things were so much easier when I sent my daughter off to college; my limited perspective kept me shielded.  No longer do I read the professor rating comments and wonder how college administration could keep such a poor professor on the payroll!  I now give a balanced perspective. But I shouldn’t be surprised.  That happens as we grow-up and learn the world is so much bigger than us.
My son told me recently that he didn’t need my help with planning his class schedule; he would handle it.  I guess it’s no fun perusing professor feedback comments with your mom when she herself is a professor.  Oh well, maybe the other incoming freshmen activities will be better opportunities for mother/son bonding.  Like finding the ice cream shop nearest the campus.
About the New Adjunct: Kathy McBrayer is currently in the dissertation phase of her doctoral studies in Organization and Management at Capella University. She holds a M.Ed. from Texas Woman’s University and a B.A. in Business Management from Northwood University. Ms. McBrayer’s professional and research interests include human resource issues that arise during major change initiatives, such as outsourcing and mergers and acquisitions.  Presently, Ms. McBrayer works as an adjunct instructor and manages her own consulting firm.  She enjoys cooking, traveling, and spending time with family and friends.

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  1. Pamela says

    I infrequently consult my own pages to see what my students at both colleges are concerned about. I find that the biggest problem with these websites is the erroneous information posted by irritated students. I’ve been accused of things connected to specific assignments that I’ve never seen before. So unless there’s another Pamela out there teaching the very same courses at the very same colleges giving these unfamiliar assignments, the sites are perpetuating totally unwarranted accusations. That’s unfair to other students who may rely on those false assertions and, obviously, unfair to me.

  2. Kathy_Mc says

    Thanks, Kat, for the feedback. I agree the forums are important for both student and teacher!
    And I will try to keep in perspective this latest milestone of sending my youngest off to college. (It sure is a bittersweet moment.) Let’s keep our fingers crossed that he gets some good professors! You know, like us (smile).

  3. Kat Kiefer-Newman says

    Great post! I love your approach to handling “the dread beast”!!! LOL Despite my own not-always-stellar ratings, I still think that these types of forums are important for students…it gives them a voice in a system that they think considers them customers/clients, but actually treats them often like objects.
    Congrats on sending your son off to college, too! As parents, those are the milestones we need to note for ourselves, for sure! Yay!
    – Kat

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