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UProf Doesn’t Need To Be Liked, Though It’s Nice. More Outrageous Behind-the Scenes Drama in a University Department

June 14, 2013

Really. I have no need to be liked by my students. When teacher evaluations come around, I don’t get worked up. I don’t even think about evaluations until the end of the term and my grades have been submitted. I look at the numbers, but I don’t give them much thought. Sometimes, I get high ratings. Sometimes, the numbers aren’t exactly stellar. Some other faculty wait until the evaluations are submitted 3/4 of the way through the semester to give a challenging test or assignment which usually allows them to negate a lot of those high grades that they have assigned to papers earlier in the term.

Most of my colleagues actually assign a short idiotic writing assignment on the first day of class which they never return to the student. They’re usually in-class assignments asking the student to tell the teacher something about himself. The student gives the information, then forgets about it. Students don’t realize that these serve two purposes. “Nontraditional” students usually give information about present jobs, past degrees, personal interests, and other personal data which either qualifies or disqualifies them as informed, educated intimidators or nobodies like the rest of the students (at least, in the minds of some of my colleagues).

Most of my colleagues (myself included) assign in-class writing on the first day to find out about the students’ writing ability and to get a little insight into the individuals. Once, I had a nontraditional student in my class who was pursuing a degree in American literature after having completed medical school and set up her own medical practice. She said that she took night courses in literature to preserve her sanity. I respected that, and I respected her different interpretations of assigned literature largely because they weren’t the usual tripe churned out by professional critics. Unlike so many highly educated academicians who had never worked a real job in their lives, this student had actually been out there doing things for twenty years or more. It isn’t often that I feel humbled by a student, but I was. Having her in class was an absolute joy. I was glad that I knew that she was an M.D. ahead of time so that I could give her the space that she deserved.

A lot of profs feel uncomfortable with the nontraditional students because sometimes they are more motivated than the younger students, and they fear that he’ll give the prof a bad evaluation. Worse, some profs feel that the nontraditional student may offer a mature opinion of his own about the assignment and may actually be able to back up his opinion with personal experience or (worse) a recognized academician’s published criticism that the prof was unaware of. That happens sometimes. I love it when someone springs something new on me.

Another use to which some profs put in-class written assignments is sinister: the assignment is used as a handwriting sample to identify students who give low evaluations AND have the temerity to qualify their boiler plate fill-in-the-bubble form ratings with an actual handwritten explanation. This information is telegraphed through the faculty grapevine, and the student is branded. Apparently, some students are aware of this tactic. One member of the faculty was actually angry over the “dishonesty” of a couple of students who slanted their handwriting on the first in-class writing assignment to make it appear as though they were left-handed. None of the anonymous evaluations which bore a written comment matched any of the first-day handwriting samples. Each evaluation form required the student to fill in the heading on the anonymous evaluation with the name and number of the course as well as the name of the teacher. None of that information matched the handwriting samples either.

One prof taught classes that were offered to both graduate students and underclassmen. Though he was supposed to leave the class as soon as the evaluation collector (usually a graduate student) entered the class at the assigned time, he’d remain in the class to instruct the students to enter a class code that indicated whether the student was an underclassman or a graduate student. Considering the fact that his classes are usually comprised of fewer than twelve students, it made it much easier for him to determine who gave him a poor evaluation. (God help the student who gave him a bad evaluation. He was toast for the rest of the time that he spent at the university— or for the rest of the classes that he took in the department). He should have been strung by his heels by an ethics committee, but he’s never been caught.

One of the nice things about tenure is that the grad faculty don’t have to worry too much about evaluations, though some actually fear them and do their utmost to keep students happy by inflating grades paper after paper, semester after semester, and year after year to avoid receiving many student evaluations that the department chair will see. While a prof may undergo tenure review and the student ratings may be used against him when it is felt that it’s time to thin the herd, I really don’t spend too much worrying about it. I do what I have to do to keep the university happy, and my student “approval ratings” (that’s what they are) have remained pretty steady through the years. Luckily, nobody in the administration pays much attention to the freshman whiners. Otherwise, I’d have been thrown out years ago. Actually, everyone’s freshman reviews have gotten steadily worse through the years. Some find this alarming. I view it as a sign of the times: little Halle and young Zander (whatever happened to traditional names?) expect a nice reward for the least effort.  Somebody has forgotten to tell these kids that a grade is an assessment, not a reward.

(I won’t get started on grading vs rewarding. I’ll save that for another entry, along with tenure review).

But again, I feel no need to be liked by my students, though it is nice. My job is to teach, not to boost my popularity among students or faculty. If I ever do engage in anything to boost my popularity, it is unconscious, and it is certainly not an effort to boost my popularity among my colleagues. I know too much about them to want to be liked by many of them.

I’ve got a 101 class this summer, and as far as I can tell, few of them have read anything or written anything since they were in fourth grade. I don’t receive papers from these kids. I receive Twitters.

More on that later.

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