by: Maaly Younis, William Ridgway, Adam Green, Kelly Cuccolo & Madeline Bruce
At the end of every semester, there is always this moment when we, graduate teaching assistants, become concerned about how to interpret and deal with teaching evaluations. It is a daunting task, especially if it is your first-time teaching. A very important thing to remember is that research that has been done in this area shows that teaching evaluations have little to do with your efficacy as a teacher (Darling-Hammond, 2012). In this month we are sharing with our fellow graduate teaching assistants our ways of handling these evaluations and what they mean to us in terms of developing our experiences as instructors.
Maaly: Although I believe that teaching evaluations are not a 100% reliable source of data to evaluate my teaching efficacy, there is still value to the students’ opinions of how they perceive my teaching practices. So, I find it helpful to keep a reflective journal where I document and reflect on my teaching practices in terms of what works and what does not. Comparing my reflections to the students’ opinions is a good way to improve my future teaching planning and also keeping the practices that have good results and are perceived positively by the students. Another technique I use is peer evaluation. During the semester, I ask a few of my colleagues or mentors to observe my class and provide feedback. These notes are also helpful if any of them are consistent with the students’ feedback. In general, it is important not to let the negative comments put you down and remember that there is always room for growth and expansion as instructors in training.
Kelly: It can be easy to focus or dwell on that one negative evaluation, or those few critical comments, but take time to reflect on what you can act on and improve for future iterations of the course. You can’t change yourself, but you can make adjustments to the course such as talking slower during lectures or making assignment instructions clearer. If you tend to dwell on the negative feedback, it might be helpful to have a trusted mentor read through your evaluations first. They can help summarize what students saw as the strengths and weaknesses of your course, and help you process what changes you can realistically implement to improve.
William: Teaching evaluations — considered by some to be deeply flawed measures — can be quite useful for continued development. They attempt to point instructors in the proper direction, regardless of whether that direction stems from positive or negative feedback. Typically, instructors will tend to focus their attention on negative feedback and find it difficult to value a compliment and critique equally. Thus, it is important to remember that every instructor will receive negative feedback at some point during their career, and such feedback should be acknowledged. It is important to note what has worked well and what needs improvement. Finally, always remember to account for your experience. There are so many factors that comprise a “pristine” course and many of those factors are constantly evolving and are a function of experience.
Adam: It is important to remember that while we all want good reviews all the time, it is simply not going to happen. This is because there is no one teacher, or teaching style, that will be effective for and please all students. For example, some students are in search of accurate information which they can take with them into their further studies. Other students may not care as much for the nitty-gritty details, and instead want easily digested facts or rules which they can rely on when memorizing information for tests. Still others may simply despise the content itself and no teacher on the planet could make them enjoy it (stats teacher here!). Thus, we will always receive some lukewarm or negative feedback about our teaching. What we should focus on is which bits of criticism do we care about and respond to? Decide for yourself what areas of your teaching you consider important, and that you could improve upon. Reviews will probably never all be perfect, so the important thing is to decide which feedback you take to heart and which feedback you leave behind.
Madeline: Between our sincere desire to leave every student happy and the research that finds that teaching evaluations can be quite flawed and biased, processing and using student feedback can be difficult. What I would offer is to seek a mentor, a colleague you trust, or as my mentor puts it, “an old head who’s been there: make sure they have some grey hairs.” They can offer insight on common compliments and complaints, and, having likely known you for more than a semester, can help determine feedback from venting. There are times students provide constructive feedback for the course, but there are other times they take that space to leave concerns about issues on campus and beyond. Bringing another colleague can help illuminate themes so we can understand how to help students in and out of our classroom.
Darling-Hammond, L., Amrein-Beardsley, A., Haertel, E., & Rothstein, J. (2012). Evaluating teacher evaluation. Phi Delta Kappan, 93(6), 8-15.
GSTA Team News
Congratulations to GSTA Steering Committee Member Kelly Cuccolo for her new position as an assistant professor at Alma College!
Congratulations to GSTA Chair Maaly Younis for successfully defending her dissertation!