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how to read evaluations

The semester is over. Grades are in. And now that we have evaluated student work, it’s time to read the evaluations that students have written about us and our work.

Plenty of other people have written better on how complicated evaluations are for adjuncts as people with precarious work situations, leading to problems like grade inflation etc. But I’d like to write about the simple fact of reading these evaluations, the ways that they make us vulnerable.

Let me back up: after my first semester of teaching, unsatisfied with the scantron evaluation forms provided by the college, I designed my own evaluations, ones that would hopefully make me a better teacher, and make the students express what they did and didn’t find valuable in the course (in complete sentences!) I still do this most semesters. Questions look like this:


What do you feel you have learned in this course, both in terms of skills and content?

How was interaction with the course website? Did it make sense? What could be improved in the future?

Discuss the writing assignments: were the assignments and expectations clear?  Did the grades and comments make sense?

What would you keep in the course for future classes (i.e. readings, topics, films)?  What would you change?  Be honest and specific.


But even with the responses to these, of which I am generally happy and proud, I still dread opening the college’s evaluations. It’s a funny thing, too. I have always gotten reasonably good feedback. I always give my students a talk about anonymity (i.e. just because you are anonymous doesn’t give you the right to be abusive — know the difference between constructive and abusive.) I am a confident teacher.

And yet.

I open those suckers up, and I am suddenly ranked numerically. All of the high-achiever *stuff* from the past comes flooding back in — and if those numbers aren’t somewhere around an A-, I spend the rest of the day (and sometimes the week) feeling miserable. Even if all but two are resoundingly GREAT, I can only read the two bad evals over and over, as if those are the real truth of the matter.

On one hand, these are meant to help us become better teachers, but there’s something about the finality of these judgments, especially at the hands of students for whom I have *tried* to be a good teacher, something about them is always so so hard.


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