Sex Ed in Higher Ed

College instructor teaching human sexuality rants about the dumbing down of America, the lost art of manners, grammar and (the perfect combination of both) the thank you note. Also includes random rants about life, pet peeves, and sometimes raves about favorite things.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Course Evals

If you've never taught, you cannot possibly understand the power and pain that is the end-of-semester course evaluation. And if you're thinking, "Pish! Tosh! Come on, Teacher Lady - I have gotten performance evaluations from the boss from the depths of hell for decades now, so I get it," you would be just a tad wrong.

I, too, have gotten big important corporate America performance evals (or annual reviews, or objective appraisals or whatever stupid phrase your company uses for "Mock you and criticize you and tear out your soul.") And it ain't the same.

Corporate America performance appraisals have a few major differences. One, you typically (although not always) have the chance to ask questions. So when your boss reads to you, "Now, Mr. Smith over in Accounting says, 'Teacher Lady is effective but tends to drool while speaking,'" you can say to your boss, "Um, what? I don't quite understand. Can Mr. Smith cite a specific time when I was drooling?" and your boss can get Mr. Smith on the speaker phone and he can say, "What? Drooling!?? No! I didn't say that - I said dueling!" And you can heave a sigh of relief and only later wonder in the middle of the night when you can't sleep, "Dueling? Is that better than drooling? Gob, I hope so. What did he even mean by that? Is this because I thought his wife was his daughter?" And two, (typically) you know who said what about you. If Mary, in Inside Sales, who is also the world's most heinous shrew and happens to hate your guts wrote, "Teacher Lady needs to learn to delegate better," you can just think to yourself, "Mary in Inside Sales is the world's most heinous shrew, and she happens to hate my guts, so that makes sense. I'm not going to get all bent out of shape about her opinion." And perhaps, you gossip about Mary more than usual for the next week or so and then you forget all about it until you are passed over for a promotion because Mary said you can't delegate well.

Course (code for "instructor") evaluations lack both of these components. When you get your spring semester course evaluations (as I did last week), you don't have the ability to ask the person what something means. For example: "My quizzes were too academic? What . . . does that mean, exactly? Because I kind of thought we were, you know, in an academy of higher learning. You were expecting, what maybe? A pornographic cartoon and instructions to circle the 'pee-pee'?" Or, another one that mystified me: "This course was too much work." Ah, yes. The insult that has bedeviled college instructors for centuries . . . too much work. I wonder if Calculus and Chemistry instructors have to deal with that same criticism. Because the assumption is that a human sexuality class is going to be all porn and Jell-O shots?

And of course - since the evaluations are anonymous, you cannot defend or explain yourself. One student wrote, "Quizzes should not be at the beginning of class. It would be much more fair if quizzes were at the end of the class." Well, I suppose that's true. Because if I said to you, "Kids, one and one is two. Now, take out a piece of paper and a pencil. Here's a short quiz: How much is one and one?" I'm guessing that might be the world's easiest fairest quiz. But, see, the method to my all-out-kooky-madness was that the weekly quizzes would check for reading, THEN all you dedicated students who DID your reading would both a.) get perfect scores on your quizzes, and then b.) be able to participate in an intelligent discussion of the material. But I guess I'm just nuts like that.

One student wrote (here's where the concept of anonymity is shattered, because I've got a pretty good idea of who wrote this one), "Teacher Lady teaches this class like we're all a bunch of drunken, horny sleazes. She must acknowledge the sacred aspects of sex." This is where I'd love to ask for clarification from our friend Inappropriate Sister ('cause - c'mon - if it wasn't her, someone did a DAMN good impression of her): WHAT exactly did I do, teach or say to imply that I think college students are all a bunch of drunken, horny sleazes? Could it be how much I discussed sexually transmitted infections? I didn't mean to imply that all students have them - it's just, you know, there is a chapter called (wait for it): Sexually Transmitted Infections. Was it maybe how I discussed a variety of methods of birth control and their success/failure rates, as well as benefits and costs? Could it be that your instructor thinks you are all just a big bunch of sluts who are out trying to NOT get pregnant every night? Could be, or it could be that there is a chapter called, (dramatic pause) Contraception!!!

On a lighter note, one student (I'm guessing male) wrote, "All the guest speakers were great, but next time, try to get a REAL, TRUE hustler like Hugh Hefner." Okay, pal. I'll get right on that. Thanks for the suggestion.


Blogger Veronica Mitchell said...

I loved:
A pornographic cartoon and instructions to circle the 'pee-pee'?"


A friend of mine teaches at a college that just started a way for teachers to formally respond and comment on their evaluations from students. 'Bout time.

September 06, 2006 12:21 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

SO FUNNY! At least they didn't criticize you personally, the way office colleagues sometimes do.

September 06, 2006 3:11 AM  
Anonymous susie said...

This brings back so many memories. Or should I call them flashbacks?

I've had corporate evaluations and student evaluations too, and I agree, the student evaluations are much, much worse.

And much more incomprehensible.

September 06, 2006 5:35 AM  
Blogger Sue said...

Last Wednesday, first night of class, my instructor said that her last round of course evals included a comment from someone who liked her class, but did not like the way she dressed.

People put the dumbest stuff on things like that. It's the annonymity of it all. If they had to put their names on them, there would be a lot less frivalous stuff.

And let's face it, you know these students, who barely passed your class anyway, have no idea what the words "constructive criticism" mean.

September 06, 2006 12:50 PM  
Blogger jackie said...

This is the first time I've read your blog, and this entry was a perfect gateway for me! I have also gotten the "too much work" comment, because you know, my classes are about popular culture, so we should just watch TV and get three credits for it. Also "too much writing-- this isn't an English class"-- because only English classes involve writing, did you know that?!

"REAL, TRUE hustler" made me laugh out loud, so thanks for that!

September 06, 2006 1:20 PM  
Blogger liberalbanana said...

I hate filling out evaluations when I take classes. (We get training here at work.) I have only received a handful of evaluations at work so far, but with it being a federal agency and all, not much goes into it. :)

I can't believe someone wrote "this class is too much work." Wow.

September 06, 2006 2:22 PM  
Blogger brid said...

is this the part where i admit that i didn't do my course/teacher evaluation for the spring semester? Granted, it wasn't for you, but still. I didn't do it. Oops??

September 06, 2006 4:30 PM  
Blogger zygote daddy said...

Oh, I so hear you! I can't tell you how many students have complained that there was too much material that they had to know. That's right: they learned too much. Unbelievable. And the class was not exactly rocket science.

September 06, 2006 6:39 PM  
Anonymous janet said...

I actually think some of those criticsms are really compliments! The kid who is mad that the quizzes aren't at the end of class -- that shows that you are rewarding the smart ones and penalizing the dumb ones, so really, that is a good thing! (and by smart I mean they do the reading and vice versa)

September 06, 2006 6:41 PM  
Blogger Art Nerd Lauren said...

OMG- I fear these things coming in next semester. Those and the myspace rate your teacher things. Scary. I had a student who felt the need to email me when I was a TA. He let me know in no uncertain terms that we (there were two of us) sucked, because we didn't know the answers to the questions (hey, not to try and cover my own ass, but ancient art is like that- no answers, cause, you know, no historical records?!) and our tours of the museum were boring. Sorry, dude. He may have called us ugly, too. Jerkass!

September 06, 2006 7:23 PM  
Blogger Erin said...

When you have a corporate evaluation, your boss has some incentive to remember the good things about your work because, unless you are just plain bad at your job, the company wants to keep you. Students on the other hand have no incentive to be kind. Your class is over. They have their grade. And you don't know who they are. I know one teacher who would throw the entire unopened packet of evaluations in the trash immediately upon receiving it. I vote for that approach.

September 06, 2006 8:53 PM  
Blogger Mrs. T said...

I don't have to do student evals, but I chose to when I was a newborn baby teacher. I quit doing them for many of the examples of idiocy you've given. "Too much work"? Ugh. I've gotten "Speaks too much Spanish" and "Doesn't speak enough Spanish" from students in the same damn class. A SPANISH class.

September 06, 2006 9:32 PM  
Blogger Andy said...

Oh the atrocity that is schoolwork. Oh woe is they who have to put forth effort to attain an education. Oh, not READING?! Damn our eyes!

As a (10th year) senior in a (crappy Cal State) University I can appreciate what you're saying. All the little 18 year old (spoiled brats) "students" just want to skate through like, mount each other like a pack of rabid, orgy-drive, baboons, and drink mass quantities of beer. I'm the old man on campus who actually (gasp) does the work, enjoys READING, and offers to help.

And I also sign my instructor evaluations because 1) I know the instructors by now, 2) I like them, 3) I know what they mean to our crap system of mis-education. We just love the bureaucracy of it all. Don't you?

September 07, 2006 12:36 PM  
Blogger Fraulein N said...

I'd vote for throwing that shit out too, if you're allowed. Too academic?!

Also, in case you ever publish these tales, please consider "Porn and Jell-O Shots" as a title. Or maybe "More Than Porn and Jell-O Shots."

September 08, 2006 1:53 PM  
Blogger ProfessorDog said...

I got mine a few weeks ago. One said, "Don't talk about your personal problems in class so much." The only personal problem I remember discussing was the time when I got poison ivy on face and one eyelid was grotessquely swollen (4X normal size). Excuse me, but I thought being taught by the Elephant Man would be at least a *little* bit less distracting if they knew what the problem was. Another wrote "stop being so depressed all the time." Uh, yeah. Thanks. Several others though I should correct their spelling mistakes, instead of just circling them, "So we can see what we did wrong." Sorry, I happen to think Juniors in college should be able to use a dictionary independently. Of course I also got the usual range of "The class was way too hard, I had no idea what ProfessorDog wanted me to do," and "ProfessorDog didn't say one single thing I didn't already know."

September 08, 2006 8:24 PM  
Blogger Shell said...

Oh, god, those stupid evals. Just another little way we encourage students to view us as their employees.

September 10, 2006 3:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your blog makes me laugh so much. Thanks.

September 11, 2006 9:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To any professor who gets contradictory comments like "speaks too much/too little Spanish," it's pretty easy to see what the problem is: You're teaching to the average student, so anyone who is either smarter/harder working or dumber/lazier than average is not going to be happy.

I'm one of the smart ones. So I sit in class and think, you discussed a topic for two hours when I understood it perfectly in the first five minutes. I could have been at home working on my paper instead of sitting here, accomplishing and learning nothing.

September 13, 2006 9:21 AM  
Anonymous Asst. Prof. of Math said...

"Ah, yes. The insult that has bedeviled college instructors for centuries . . . too much work. I wonder if Calculus...instructors have to deal with that same criticism."

*sigh* Yep.

September 13, 2006 11:52 AM  
Anonymous New York Prof said...

Heh. I've had a student evaluation that actually said "Prof. So-and-So should tell students the essay questions before the exam so we know what we should study." Right. Or, you might, I dunno, do the reading?

What really bugs me about student evaluations is not the comments. No one besides the professor pays any attention to them. What bothers me is that the same people who say the course is too much work are the ones who score you low and pull your average rating down.

September 13, 2006 4:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow you got off easy. When I was in college I used to try to keep 'em interesting. From memory
"Dr. Blank is always available for help in his office. I think that's because he sleeps in a coffin under his desk."
"We tried to kill Dr. Blank but his pact with Satan makes him immune to mortal weapons. Next time we're going to drive a stake through his heart and drag him into the sun for god's light to kill."
"If I'm ever mistaken for either smart or well educated in the future it will be because of Dr. Blank."
"This class was hard until I found out that professor evil is too lazy to change anything from year to year. I don't like to cheat but he made it too easy not to. Fortunately I've been told that this material is 10 years out of data and not relevant in the real world." (programming class)
"Professor cranky has a strange attitude. Some days his feedback is normal. other days he calls us lazy for doing what he liked yesterday. can the college get him counseling or at least Prozac?"
"Professor cranky does not like me. I didn't notice because I thought he was just insane but several of my friends in class asked what I did to him. I hereby apologize for asking that he be committed in my eval last semester." after that he said hello to me by name every time he saw me on campus. Small college. Happened a lot.
"Dr. Chemistry Dept. Head is horrible. I learned some of these subjects previously and STILL didn't understand what she was trying to explain. I feel less well educated now than when I started. I'm getting a B+ in the class. I'm changing my major because of her." My roommate had her his senior year and carried around a typed 15 page letter that detailed her numerous flaws for three weeks senior year. It was an addendum to his eval. He never had a good explanation on why he didn't just mail it to the dean.

that's all I can remember at this point.

September 13, 2006 8:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As I'm in my second year of university teaching, course evaluations are still novel to me.

I've just ordered the evals for this semester and to be honest, I'm worried about the comments I'll receive.

The class I took last year happened to be in my specialist area, so thanks to a lot of pre-semester prep, an enthusiastic student cohort and a bit of luck, the class rocked and I got surprisingly good evals (100% approval rate).

This time the course is not in my area, the class is huge (including a lot of first years), and by the looks of the first assignment most students aren't going to get a high grade.

So despite the effort I'm putting in,
am I going to get nasty, unqualified evals because the students are going to have to work hard to pass? I think so :-(

September 15, 2006 6:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous's list of various evaluation responses were hilarious. I would at least respect the negative evaluations if they reflected some creativity and wit, instead, they seem to reflect bitter entitlement. *Sigh*

September 19, 2006 5:20 PM  

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