This week I did what professors like me hate most. We handed out course evaluations to our students so they could judge us. Few things suck more than sheepishly passing around those little forms to 20 young adults and then pacing back to your office, wondering what they’re saying about you while they bubble in their answers. And we know it’s usually nothing good. It’s not, “She’s so smart. I loved her lectures on language policy. I learned so much about how racist we all are.” Or maybe it is. I mean, that’s what some of them say to my face.
I know there’s some hate mixed in there, too, because I’ve been on both sides of this situation. As a student, I was often the first one to stir people up after the professor left. The door would click shut, and I’d say something in a low tone like, “Worst teacher ever, am I right?” I’d glance around the room to see who else nodded along with me. Maybe I’d catch a few people’s eyes, and we’d start bashing the asshole in hopes of tanking his evals. Who knew? Maybe we could deny him a small raise. It was almost always a full professor who earned my ire. Untenured faculty don’t have the guts to act like jerks yet.
To be fair, I only plotted against a few professors who truly deserved it in my book. One such jerk, a Renaissance specialist, spent an entire semester berating the intelligence of half his female students while actively hitting on the other half. He commented on our makeup and hair, our outfits and necklaces, and asked us if we had boyfriends. That was until we started falling asleep during his endless lectures on unpublished papers he’d written about obscure 15th century conduct books. Ironically, I would re-read those same books with fascination about six years later with a different professor. Anyway, he deserved every rotten comment he got. Since we knew he had tenure, we wrote especially nasty shit. One of us commented, “He wanted to fuck us pretty bad until he found out we weren’t all that into Spencer, or shriveled potato men.” That wasn’t me. I promise.
Now everything’s turned around, and I’m the one who worries about judgment at the hands of students I’ve inadvertently (or advertently) pissed off. Maybe I’m getting my just desserts for what I did to others all those years ago. It’s not hard to piss off students, btw, given that some of them don’t believe in evolution, abortion, vaccines, or global warming. Let’s be honest. They see right through my attempts to “respect their opinions,” because there’s no way I can truly value a bad stance while also doing my job–which is to make them critical thinkers. You can’t be a critical thinker if you believe “gluten free” means sissy meals and won’t hear otherwise.
We’ve known for a while that student evaluations tend to rate women and minorities more harshly. Shut up. I’m not kidding. I’ve read articles. Go do your own research if you don’t believe me. Students want female teachers to be warm and nurturing. When they aren’t, they get marked down across the board for being “bitches.” What’s a bitch? A woman who acts like a confident guy. Women are also not allowed to be dry or funny. You can imagine how my Asperger’s can go over.
Still, I get pretty damn good evaluations. I work my ass off for them, though. What I lack in persona I have to make up for in organization, fairness, gravitas, and respect in the sense that I don’t bullshit them. Often, my blunt honesty comes off as humorous, and I can work with that. My average eval score for the last four years is 4.3 on a 5.0 scale. Above 4 is generally seen as excellent. I’ll take it. Of course, I’ve gotten reamed by some students. Let me share with you some choice comments from my evaluations over the years. I’ve thrown in some comments from my friends for fun. See if you can guess which ones are about me, and which aren’t:
- Her hair is like a theme park ride. I wanna ride it!
- Knows a lot, but a little awkward. She needs to smile more.
- Not a fair grader at all. My paper’s [sic] all had perfect grammar but she still tore them to shreds.
- I learned more about English in high school. The assignments were super easy. She never graded them either.
- Showed movies all the time. Assignments were NOT clear. What a waste of my money.
- Guess what? I don’t give a shit about your love life! Stop talking about dating and politics. All the guys flirting with her are just spinning their wheels…
- Such a bitch! She showed up late all the time and then she lectured me about absences. Hypocrite!
- Pretty much exactly what I was warned about. Feminism. Equality. Civil Rights horse crap. I learned nothing. Also very disorganized.
- If you’re gonna dress like that you might as well give up. Wore the same shoes. Every Day.
- Too young. Universities need to hire older professors who actually know what their [sic] doing and not beauty pageant dropouts.
Before we go any further: No I fucking did not wear the same shoes everyday. I have flats in three or four different colors. Anyway, the only thing worse than comments like this are what we professors do. What, you ask? Professors guilty of unethical conduct? Why, yes! Most certainly. One professor I know of almost got fired for altering his rival’s course evaluations. He literally erased and redid the bubbles to drive down the averages. He also wrote damning comments on the open-ended questions like, “Didn’t show up sometimes,” or “Cried a lot at one point.” I’m mean sometimes, but even I’d never do that to someone. Yay, me.
But I’m no angel either. For about four semesters in a row, I sneaked into the department office late at night, and looked at my evaluations before final grades were due. Gasp. You aren’t supposed to do that. Students hand your evaluations to the department office manager, who is supposed to keep them in a locked file cabinet so nobody tampers with them. Well, our department slacked on security a little. I wasn’t dumb enough to try peeking at them in broad day light. No, I left my boyfriend in bed in the dead of night and drove to campus. I found mine in the stack, and gently leafed through them. The rushing relief was like the first drag off a cigarette. Btw, if you don’t smoke much, the first drag off a cigarette is a powerful nerve tonic. Highly recommended. I’ve smoked five or six cigarettes my entire life, and each one was fucking awesome. I seriously hope I don’t get cancer.
Anyway, I would’ve gotten in huge trouble if someone had caught me snooping around the unsecured student evaluations. It doesn’t matter if I altered them or not. I never did that. Even when I got a batch of evaluations so bad they made me cry at night for a month, I didn’t change them. That was never the point of my excursions to the office. It was all about soothing my killer judgment anxiety. That’s how bad my anxiety was. I couldn’t sleep until I’d seen them, either felt the sweet relief or the blow of the guillotine. We professors take evaluations seriously. They determine the course of our career, at least until we’re tenured. You never quite know what your students think about you until that moment of truth. I was willing to risk my whole career. But why? Why not just wait? Because universities can take until the end of time to process your evaluations, depending on the place. One time I got my May evaluations back in August. Three fucking months. Ridiculous. If I hadn’t sneaked a peak, I probably would’ve died. If you’re a college student, think about that. Be kind. You don’t have to lie, but you don’t have to berate your teachers either. Trust me, we punish ourselves enough.