Tuesday, January 22, 2008

This Makes Teaching Worth It

It will probably not come as a big shock to many of you that I care about teaching. I like research, and I care about my research, but teaching is where my passion lies. Thus, it has been difficult for me in the past to receive less than stellar teaching reviews. Actually, I usually have a split between students who really liked my class and students who really did not like my class, leaving me with average scores.*

I've come to the conclusion that I get lower results on my course evaluations than some of my peers because my 400-level class is, wait for it... hard. Yes, folks, I require my students to write (a lot), to critically appraise and analyze the information I give them, and in general, to use their brains more than they might in other sociology classes. In return, they get a teacher who is almost always available to them for help (although very few come to see me), who takes time to write comments on their papers, and who truly cares about what I'm doing.

I've resigned myself to the lower teaching evaluations, although this did take time and maturity. When I despair, I remind myself of the professor who once said, "If I get perfect evaluations, I'm doing something wrong. If I'm truly challenging students, some won't like it."

So, that's why it's so nice for me to get positive feedback from my students, like the email I got today from "Joe Student." I won the award he's discussing last year, but this is an amazing compliment all the same. So I'm going to take the risk of bragging today on my blog and present Joe's email in its entirety.

Thank you, Joe, for making my day.

Prof. Idealist -

I hope this email finds you doing well and enjoying your classes in this new semester. Recently, they handed out the nomination sheets for graduate student teachers in the sociology department. I was surprised to not see your name on the sheet, as i had called the department a few months back asking about how to nominate teachers. I feel that you deserve recognition for the amount of time and effort you put forth in our preparation and presentation of your classes. Your class, though very challenging, was as equally rewarding, and has molded me into a more successful student. Many of my classmates felt you had us do too much writing, and complained as such. I agreed that there was alot of writing, however, if anyone actually read the comments you left, it would become apparent that you spent just as much time reading and critiquing our arguments as we spent formulating them. Given the large size of the class, andthe manner in which you thoroughly graded our papers, i believe that alone merits recognition. Yet, i think its more than that. The in-class discussions were excellent and generated many different points of view. You challenged us to look past the status quo and question accepted points of view, and to put our thoughts into arguments furthering our academic development. Lastly, you were always extremly well prepared for class. Your enthusiasim for the subject matter shone bright, and helped spur our interest in areas that were perhaps less exciting. Throughout my college career, i have expreienced a smorgasboard of different professors of various learning styles, personalities, and approaches. However, i have not come across a professor who was able to balance being extremly challenging, interesting, and more than fair all in one. If for some reason you are precluded from being on this ballet, i will do my best to make sure you recieve recognition in some way, and i thank you for the opportunity you have given me, and making me a better student. Good luck this semester, keep up the good work!

- Joe Student

*I also do not trust teacher course evaluations in their current form. The primary question on our t.c.e.'s is "What is your overall rating of this instructor's teaching effectiveness?" There are quite a few problems with this question, but the main one is that this is very ambiguous. How are we to know that what I deem effective is the same as what Tom deems effective, or Marcy, or Julie, etc... For me as a student, a challenging course indicated an effective instructor, but for some, an easy course where the student learns a lot of facts may indicate effectiveness, and we haven't even yet touched on learning styles. From a methodological standpoint, teacher course evaluations are a nightmare.


Anonymous said...

congratulations on the positive feedback! do you intend to frame the email, or is that just something i would do ;) ?

bookmobile said...

Wow. Not that you need it after that letter, but kudos!