Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What Motivates Good Student Evaluations

For some unfathomable reason, the best student evaluations I get are always from the course that during the entire semester bothered me the most. Whenever I feel that the course isn't going too well, that I'm failing, that the students are bored out of their heads, are lost, confused and uninterested, the evaluations turn out to be absolutely spectacular. I have no idea how this works. Is it because I worry so much about the course and keep changing things around to improve it?

Last year, there was this Intermediate Spanish class that I taught. We'd been given a really bad classroom with no technology, so I could neither show videos nor bring music to the classroom. Everything was done on an ancient transparency projector that kept breaking down. The classroom was so depressing that the students were permanently subdued, silent, and extremely hard to involve in group activities. The course material (the course concentrates on the subjunctive in all forms and tenses) was extremely difficult. Every day in class I felt like I was failing to do anything good or useful.

Then it turned out that the students loved the course and loved me. Several of them have declared Majors and Minors in Spanish after it. Almost every single person who took the course continued taking other classes with me. When I meet students from that class in the hallways, they light up and sometimes try to hug me and declare their love for me. 

I have no explanation for this.

4 comments:

Spanish prof said...

No idea. I'm the complete opposite. I always know how my evaluations will come up. One evaluation can surprise you one way or the other (the student who never spoke and you thought was asleep actually adored you, a nasty evaluation when you never felt that vibe on the classroom), but I know perfectly well what I'll get.

brittanyannwick said...

The best professors are the ones who want to be there. We can tell if a professor loves teaching, or if they're only there because they have to be. The best professors care. They talk to students. They engage with us in class. My favorite professors vary in a lot of ways, but they all have this in common.

People are often surprised to hear that one of my favorite professors in the political science department at Western was one of the most conservative ones. But he loved discussion. He engaged us. He didn't tolerate uninformed opinion (from left or right). He was fun. One of my favorites from the English department once got into a heated debate with me. It was so intense her legs were pressing into the front of my desk. I never begrudged that. I left classes with those professors exhilarated, brimming with energy and new knowledge. THAT'S what makes a good professor. It's you. Not the technology. Not the methods or assignments. It's not even really about the material.

Clarissa said...

Thank you, brittanyannwick. This is so great to hear.

Patrick said...

Brittany hit it perfectly. Technically perfect profs (or teachers/coaches/mentors in any field) are not necessarily the most inspiring.

Give me somebody passionate about a subject, even if they're not the 'top of their field' over someone who 'knows they're superior to the serfs in the room'.