Sunday, April 1, 2007

It's that time of year...

...for evaluations. I'm giving mine out the last day of class which is next week (not this coming one). This time of year, I start looking at my classes a little bit more closely - noting their reactions to things more (grades, chiding about turning work in on time, coming to class on time, etc.). It's not that I'm clueless to them for the rest of the semester, but it's just that I start to think about the usual griping in the class (both theirs and mine) as fodder for evaluations. There's not enough time for the petty annoyances to wear off and the ones that have been brewing all semester (and there are more than a few with so many students) are coming to a head.

Like most of us, I'm sure, I usually get good evals overall, but I've also been absolutely eviscerated on a few. When the student obviously takes that opportunity to systematically annihilate your teaching skills, your knowledge, your class policies, your wardrobe, you name it. The other day in the student center, I was killing time before class and I heard these girls at the next table absolutely ripping on one of their professors - it was like a scene from that tacky (yet oh so enticing) movie "Mean Girls." Finally, the ringleader said, "none of it matters because we'll still pass the class and we're all going to totally take that bitch down in her evaluations!" I choked, tried desperately to keep Coke Zero from coming out my nose, and ran away, sprinkling holy water over my shoulder, and thanking whoever's up there that this little chick was not one of mine.

Now, these uber-snarky and completely over the top evals (the Dutchman would call them "statistical outliers" to be discarded from the data set) are obviously just a few students' passive-aggressive displacement about what is ultimately their own poor performance in the class. Some of their complaints hold water, but if they hold water, they usually aren't snarky, just honest. As this semester winds down, and my mind has turned to evaluations, I've realized that I'm in a unique position this year (and even for the last year or two) because none of these evals will ever be placed in my tenure file, etc. They're like 4 semesters of "gimmes" - I've read them and I've learned from many of them and chafed at a few of them, which is basically what they're intended to do (I think the unofficial purpose for evals is to make profs grow thicker skins - mine gets a bit thicker every term). This semester, I'm particularly pleased because I'm teaching all classes I've never taught before, that are not in my area of expertise, and one of which is not even in the English Dept. If there was ever a year to "try classes out for free", it's this one.

What I'm wondering, though, is about other people's experiences with evals and tenure cases or pre-tenure review cases. When I look at my evals, it's painfully obvious to me which comments form an actual pattern of something I need to work on or something I did right and which ones are just individuals being nasty or being totally glowing (but I'm always happy to get tons of the latter). Do promotion and tenure committees overall make this distinction? Or is it just completely different given the institution/committees?


Hilaire said...

Hey - I don't know the answer to the question about tenure committees, etc. But I just wanted to share something.

Last year, I instituted the practice of exlplaining to the students that they are writing the evals *to me*. At the uni where I was teaching last year, nobody saw the comments portion besides the instructors - the faculty crunched the numbers on the numbers portion, and that was all. At this year's uni, nobody sees them at all (!!) besides the instructor. Anyway, so I figured that I would let them know that, mainly because I was trying to stop them from writing about me in the third person - I said, "You're writing to *me*", so you can direct your comments toward me." But I figure that saying that might also have the effect of making them tone down their nastiness.

Just a thought.

Ugh - evaluations. I nearly threw up this week, heading to my Tuesday night class with my eval forms under my arm - because that class was so crazy, I was terrified to give them. I almost chickened out! Turned out that the student I am most, frankly, freaked out by was not there - nor were almost half of her classmates!

squadratomagico said...

At my university, we use three indices of teaching ability in a tenure file, and all of them are quite compassionate. First, we use a statistical indicator drawn from the student evals. These forms ask about 30 questions, but there are only two that really count: would you recommend this course overall? and: would you recommend this professor overall? The percentage of students answering "yes" to those two questions is placed in tenure files. We also take account of progress over time, so a professor who received low scores on those questions early in her career, but then brought her score up considerably, is given credit for that. The second teaching index is letters from students: former students are invited to submit them. The prof. being reviewed can submit some names of favorite students, but the department also will contact students from a former semester and request letters. These usually are good: the students know tenure is a big deal. Lastly, a colleague usually visits a class and writes an assessment letter. This, of course, is nearly always supportive.

In general, I'd say my institution has quite generous policies in regard to the evaluation of teaching for tenure. Research, however, is another matter.