Beki Grinter

Why I Wish to Keep my Teaching Comments Out of My Evaluation

In academia, academic management, empirical on September 21, 2011 at 8:30 am

I’ve written a lot about metrics in the past, today my focus is on how qualitative data is generated and the implications for evaluation. I am aware that my management (and I use that term deliberately since this is an evaluation situation) want to see the comments that students write. They currently only see the numeric scores. Their argument is that the comments would enrich their ability to evaluate my teaching.

But, I find myself very resistant to the idea.

First, how do comments shed light on teaching? How do the comments, often typed out hastily in the throws of week 15 of a 16 week semester explain the ebb and flow of the class, the work I did to bring the class together, to draw the timid into discussion, to manage the differences in perspectives among class participants, to listen and counsel the students who brought them problems not related to the class but to their lives and their struggles and joys? These are subtleties of the experience that I’ve never seen in students’ comments. Not surprising, they’re not teachers! Teaching is an intimate and deep experience, one that can only be truly understood through experiencing the classroom. I realize the desire to measure it, but teaching evaluations are only partial instruments hence the ability to improve the scores without improving the actual teaching. Adding comments won’t change that.

Second, I have a particular concern as a woman. I am sure I am not alone in having comments about my body as part of the feedback. It’s tough enough knowing that as a woman my body and its “problems” is a part of the students’ discourse. But I accept that to be young is not always to be thoughtful or kind, and I teach despite that, knowing that I get to keep those indiscretions out of the professional discourse about me. While I respect my all male management, I find the idea that they can read remarks about my body embarrassing. It transforms an annoying inequity confronted by female scientists into a public humiliation.

And that’s why I don’t want my teaching comments made public.

  1. I like the comment of one of our university managers to the numeric scores used for evaluation. It is unusually candid.

    “It’s just a variable,” he said. “And like any other variable, you optimize it.”
    He continued, “Don’t bother with exemptions, exceptions, acceptance, whatever. It is not your place to judge. That’s what they pay us for. You have your KPI’s. You optimize and deliver. That’s all we ask. If you deliver on the KPI’s of the grade above you, we promote you….eventually. It is not really that complicated.”

    He’s right. These managers really aren’t that complicated.

    (PS. Laura says Hello)

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