Evaluating the evaluations
It’s that time of year again where your brain has started to melt under the pressure of finals and winter break is on the horizon, but just slightly out of reach. It’s end of the semester time and time to take 20 minutes in all of your classes to fill out evaluations to either bash your teacher, as you have wanted to all semester, compliment their teaching, or a little bit of both.
At the end of each academic semester most American colleges have students complete evaluations of their course instructors. The process of evaluations has been criticized for years as to whether or not they are an effective way to judge a teacher’s performance. Evaluations are not only implemented in higher education, but also used in earlier schooling from elementary grades up through high school.
Evaluations are beneficial to schools because schools are able to get an accurate student perspective on their teachers. There is no one better than the students to judge whether their professor or teacher, as students are the ones who need to learn, or attempt to learn, from them.
During the semester, students could very well be intimidated by their professor, or feel they are not doing their job efficiently, but do not want to approach the teacher or anyone in the administration about it. Evaluations give students the opportunity to be brutally honest, especially because the evaluations are anonymous.
A less direct evaluation is on ratemyprofessors.com. If for some reason you have not yet heard of it, you should probably go check it out before you enroll in your classes for next semester. The website is by students and for students; students who have already taken a class evaluate the class and professor to inform prospective students. Basically, if you see the teacher with a fantastic rating, take the class and if they don’t, maybe you should stay away.
If a teacher really wanted to see what students think of them, they could check out this website, but evaluations are much more official, with specific questions that students have answered to test how professors can improve upon their teaching.
In elementary schools, high schools and often at colleges, a higher official, such as a principal or the department head will visit the professor in action to observe. But when someone is observing, trying to judge the professor’s performance, the teacher probably would not act as normally as they would if the official was not watching.
Additionally, more often than not, a not-so-good teacher could be on their best behavior in order to impress their boss, while a consistently good teacher may not have a real opportunity to show their strengths and talents.
The written evaluations are meant to benefit the teacher in order to teach more effectively in the future or to know what they are doing well in order to ensure that they continue it. If done correctly, the teacher will improve upon critiques students’ give to them in order to be a better teacher.
The end-of-the-year evaluation system does not benefit the current students, though. In one of my lectures last semester, we did a mid and end of semester evaluation. This system is the best way to approach these evaluations because halfway through the semester, students have a good understanding about their teachers’ teaching styles, what works and what does not. The teacher can fix the problem the sooner they know what it is. The assessments do not take long to do and in the long run do help the teacher, so long as they are willing to recognize their students’ points in order to fix them.
The only situation where I’ve seen this system not work was in high school when I had the same teacher for two years in a row. Unfortunately, he was a terrible teacher and did not improve in his teaching skills or attitude for the time after we evaluated him. He has tenure though, a law where after a teacher has been at a certain school or position for a number of years, the teacher cannot be fired. This leads some teachers to start slacking instead of working at their fullest potential thereby limiting the education of their students
Another way for schools to judge whether or not their professors are working their best and in the interest of their students is test scores and grades distributed at the end of the semester. If a majority of the students are doing badly, that leads to the conclusion that the teacher is doing something wrong.
The school district in Montgomery County, Maryland, established a system which draws upon test scores and depending on the circumstances, scores from state tests, student projects, student and parent surveys and other data to determine a holistic evaluation.
This is the perfect combination of how to judge a teacher, because students go home and explain to their parents what goes on at school and they can voice their opinion. It is important for parents to have a say in their child’s education.
State tests judge the student against standards created by the abilities of other students in order to judge whether or not the student grasped what their teacher taught them.
If the teacher did a good job, it is likely that the student will do well. Schools want good ratings, so they take the time to train and better their teachers. The evaluations enable them to know what to concentrate on instead of a general evaluation or rating.
Karen Podorefsky is a Collegian columnist; she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.