Evaluations are serious business

This semester, I presented my undergraduates with a challenging course. I expected them to participate in class and keep up with assignments. I told them straight out that if they were not to come prepared, stay home. I did not coddle them.

The best students thrived on the regimen. The lazy students of course hated it. Naturally, I just got whacked on evaluations this semester by my darling undergraduates. The lower scores are just enough to drop me into a lower “category” for raises.

I ran the numbers, and my decision to teach a rigorous course just cost me about $2,000 spread over my teaching career. That does not include the lost money from summer courses, which are based upon my full-time salary, which in turn in part is influenced by my teaching evaluations. If my evaluations really drop, the cost increases dramatically. The worst case scenario is that really bad evaluations in a given year can cost me as much as $7,000 over the course of my career. Students will impact my salary like this each year, every year.

Thus, I have a strong incentive to keep those numbers up however I possibly can. The obvious solution is to make my course so incredibly easy that even the laziest, whiniest undergraduate can’t help but do well. I am tempted to flood them with wonderment for poor answers and shower them with praise for undeserved effort. I just cannot bring myself to do this — I just can’t I care too much about teaching quality — and it will (literally) cost me. —UntenuredEvaluations are serious business (Chronicle Forums)

I’m certainly not blogging this because I think evaluations aren’t important, but it is important to see how pandering to student approval can result in watering down the educational system.

Standardized tests like the SAT don’t really measure a student’s academic potential — they instead measure a student’s ability to complete standardized tests. The same goes for standardized teacher evaluations, which are very good at measuring what students think they’ve learned.

I have never bought doughnuts or shown a movie in order to get my students in a good mood before passing out evaluation forms, though I certainly avoid passing out the forms on days when they’ll be affected (positively or negatively) by their most recent grades.

At Seton Hill, my division chair sits in on a class session once a semester, and the academic dean sits in on a session once a year. By doing so, they get a good sense of what the class dynamic is like, which provides context for the numbers.