I wrote this article for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency while sitting on the couch on a weekday, trying to rest after I totaled my car two days prior in an accident. For context, I love teaching and I love my students, but I do not love the system of student course evaluations and how they are used. Research shows that these anonymous course evaluations are highly biased against women and POC, that higher grades lead to higher scores, and a whole litany of other issues. Then there’s the part about this problematic tool being one of the only ways to evaluate teaching, and being part of our dossiers for promotion.
My course evals are actually good, especially considering that I teach a large-enrollment general education course (another factor that tends to lower scores), and my respect for students is my highest score (after enthusiasm–yup, that was mine). But they haven’t always been, and an angry and unfair comment can stick with you for a decade.
I think that the best advice I’ve received about course evaluations is from my PhD adviser. “Ten percent of the students will think that you are the greatest thing since sliced bread. And ten percent will hate your guts no matter what you do. Throw that 20% out and read the rest, and you might learn something useful.”
I LOVE McSweeney’s satire, and given the current discourse around course evaluations, this piece was ridiculously easy to write. What a thrill to have the opportunity to contribute!