Some weeks ago, I ran across the website of an English professor who made all of his course evaluations public, on his site.
He didn’t cherry-pick the good ones.
He didn’t omit the bad ones.
He didn’t redact anything.
(He did annotate when appropriate.)
My first thought was, “Wow! That’s pretty gutsy. I could never do that.”
My second thought was, “I’m going to do that next time I teach a course.”
For all over my over seven years of teaching, I’ve lived in fear of course evals. Most of the time, the fear was irrational. It’s not as if my evals were particularly bad, on average, and they were often quite good. It’s just that I had bought so firmly into the idea that if students were mad with me about something, or dissatisfied with something, I must be a bad teacher. And if I was a bad teacher, then my job was not safe.
So I hoarded the good ones like jewels, and tried to rationalize the bad ones. I made a list of glowing comments, and buried negative comments in my filing cabinet as quickly as possible. Sometimes I would read over a course eval that contained mostly good feedback, but the one negative remark would haunt me for days.
It was no way to teach, because I was afraid of my students. I was not connecting with them. I was using them for positive course evals, and they were using me for a passing grade.
So I decided that from now on, I’m adopting this practice: at the end of a course, when I receive course evals, I will post them on the course website, unedited. I will annotate if necessary, but I will not redact. Additionally, I will use their impressions, and my own impressions of the course as a site of reflection. I made my first stab at this here.
You may be thinking that this must have been easy for me, because these first course evals were pretty positive, and you would be right. I’m not going to say I’m not relieved! But they haven’t always been, and I doubt they always will be. For whatever reason, my students have not tended to review me on ratemyprofessors.com or other similar sites, but that’s always a possibility. Call this an effort to own both my strengths and shortcomings as a teacher, in public. And let it drive my practice in the future.