Thursday, April 25, 2013

Leona From Loveland With a Big Thirsty on the Changeable Nature of Studental Love and Appreciation.

After the final class meeting, a student gave me a gift card. I quietly returned it, telling her that the gesture was appreciated but that I was unable to accept gifts from students. (Believe me, on my salary I would have loved to take it, but my ethics overruled my poverty) She was one of the few students in the class who didn't act like she wanted to murder me during every class period.

Until I read my course evaluations today. (They're anonymous, unless the student has extremely loopy, girly handwriting) Hers was the most cruel of the bunch, claiming I was the worst professor she had ever had and that the university should be ashamed for hiring me. I'm so confused. I take poor evaluations way too seriously and personally anyways (because I'm a relatively new proffie and haven't thickened my skin properly yet), but this one especially hurt because it was so vicious but came from a student who had seemed, well, not like she hated me.

Q: Have you ever had a student turn on you like that? Have they ever seemed like they were on your side, only to trash you? Or, have they been monstrous in class and then sang your praises?


  1. Ouch. I feel for you, Leona. I've never had such a Turncoat Trixie before, but last semester's best class -- engaged, lively, unusually with-it -- ended up submitting probably my worst average numbers since I've had this position. The other section -- lethargic, largely silent, slow on the uptake -- gave me far better marks.

    I am still baffled as to how that works.

  2. Splitting is a motherfucker.

    Banana-splitting is fun.

    Splitting is not banana-splitting, but Trixie might be bananas.

    And, yes, students give all kinds of gifts, but offering cash (which is essentially what a gift card is) to a proffie isn't kosher.

  3. I had a coupon, so I brought doughnuts to the ungodly-hour-of-seven-am final exam of a small class.

    Overheard by my grad student as two of the little darlin's left the exam:

    "Wow, that was really nice of [hir] to bring the doughnuts. Now I feel sort of bad for really trashing [hir] in the course evaluations"

    Moral: Better to bring the bribes BEFORE evals are due. Chocolate is more efficacious than doughnuts anyway.

    1. Ah, the fickle young snowflake. Because a semester-long effort - blood, sweat, and tears (of frustration, but who cares?) - on the professor's part is trumped by the niceness of doughnuts. Maybe it's the low attention span.

  4. I had this happen all the time.

    I also had classes which turned on me over the summer in between academic years. I'd have those students in one course and I thought we, on the whole, got along well. They did well on the final exam and their grades were good. Then I got them in another course when they came back from summer break. They behaved completely the opposite and, when the course was over, I was glad to be rid of them.

    I could never figure out what happened. I didn't teach the new material differently and my way of doing things in my lectures didn't change.

  5. Leona, I'm sorry. That sucks worse than green salmon and allergy season all rolled into one. I was TAing for a class way back when and overheard two of my charges discussing the two most preferred teachers for Ancient Carrot-Curlery II, the course they'd have to take next semester. Proffie A was the one who took no prisoners, made you squeeze your brain, whose students didn't always pass; but those who did? Actually. Learned. Something. Proffie B was the one who seemed to shrink visibly in front of the class, her voice dipping lower and lower until she ended the class on a trembling whisper, shaking with trepidation.
    "Proffie A makes the stuff interesting," one said, awed at the fact that material could be anything but bloodcurdling. "Yeah, but Proffie B's class is easier." And that was that.
    So Leona, it's a shock, but don't let it get to you. These idiots do not know WHAT to evaluate, and frankly, if they don't like you, it's because you TAUGHT them, instead of spoonfeeding them.

  6. Yup, I've had that happen to me regularly. Fortunately I usually have samples of written work (esp. final exams) around I can compare the handwriting to and identify the fewking serpents. It's one reason I've ceased any type of socializing with students (meet-the-prof events, departmental student end of year dinners and the like): several students I thought I was on decent, professional terms with turned on me rather unpleasantly in their evaluations. I have only once had the good luck to be contacted by one such student for a letter of reference and was able to reply politely and slightly cryptically that since (s)he didn't think I was a fair and reasonable teacher, she probably didn't really want my reference.

  7. My experience is similar to Edna's; evaluation averages correlate poorly with my perception of how good the interaction with the class was throughout the semester.

    I think the only way to game the evaluation system is to do two things: (i) have their test grades throughout the course be slightly higher than they expect (regardless of how well they actually do). (ii) Let them know evaluations are so important to you, you'd do anything to get good ones.

    Unfortunately I am unable to do either of those things (I don't "curve" grades, for instance) and still take my job seriously. One can either teach or try to maximize evaluation scores, but these are incompatible goals.

    My ex was a (nontraditional) UG student where I work, and she used to tell me how, come evaluation day, students in her classes would freely exchange commentary (as they filled out the forms) about how they'd sink this or that instructor, for whatever frivolous reason. In silent protest, she would give the person "excellent" on everything. (And incidentally, I've never understood why the forms have 30 questions, when "instructor overall" is the only one that students and admins care about.)

    1. Reading some of the comments here (and the OP), I'm slightly surprised that people apparently expect some sort of reciprocity or "fair play", as if anonymous evaluations somehow followed the rules of normal human interaction. Exactly for being anonymous, they entail no more responsibility (and should carry no more weight) than anonymous throwaway comments on the internet.

      It's not just profs who are aware of how meaningless evaluations are; admins and students know that as well as we do. It's like any powerless group given a tool (or toy) that promotes the illusion of "power" without responsibility: it becomes a game to play with abandon, even glee. It's all part of the general absurdity anyway, so why not? That's why it is pointless to try to "game" these things by being "nice", to expect a rational response.

      Collectively, students are no less sophisticated at recognizing power in social situations than profs are; they fully realize evals are nothing but a weapon admins can use to harass profs who don't "get with the program", so the only question they have to answer is: "hmm, should I help the U make this person's life miserable? Why not, he/she certainly didn't make mine any easier (not to mention the funny clothes/accent/quirks)".

      Occasionally I have a chance to chat with undergraduates from other countries: exchange students at language tables, or when I visit their countries (Europe, Latin America). They do evaluations there, too, but there it's all pro forma : "yeah, we fill out the forms, but we know they don't mean anything"

    2. Rarely did I ever read something useful in an evaluation. If I did, chances are I already figured it out well beforehand.

      What was useful for me came as the result of a dispute I had with a departmental administrator, which eventually was brought to the attention of the associate dean at the time. The AD decided to sit in on some of my lectures and he spotted a few minor things that I could easily change, such as how I could present certain material.

      His observations and suggestions proved to be far more useful to me than any student evaluation. Not only did he notice what he thought could be improved, they were something tangible. I did as he suggested and it turned out he was right. I got a lot more out of that than reading pages of student whining.

  8. That evaluation was 100% about the student and not about you. The fact that the student tried to give you something tells me this person has rather warped ideas about the student/teacher relationship--or about human relationships in general. It seems that this person was trying to be manipulative--i.e. "I'll really pull one over on the professor, bribing her for a good grade before I take a dump on the evaluation." Perhaps this person just likes to be manipulative, or perhaps she grew up in a household where people often concealed their true feelings in an effort to get stuff. In either case, it doesn't matter. She sounds downright nutty, and the evaluation is a little window into her soul, not yours.

    I too have had students who act all chummy before slaying me on evaluations--but not to the extent where they bring me gifts. I once had an entire class that was sweet as pie in person and absolutely cruel in their comments about the class.

    What I really hate is when you do THEM a favor--a letter of rec for an internship or job, a reference for an RA position--and they repay you with a cutting evaluation. I've had that happen more than once. I don't think they understand that to repay a favor with a slice of nastiness is not only unprofessional but just really bad, karmically speaking. I no longer agree to write recs before the semester is over. I tell students that I need to see an entire semester's work before I can vouch for them--but really, it's because I need to see how that evaluation turned out. I retain final exams, so it's not difficult to track down handwriting.

    1. In writing the thing about recs, I didn't mean to imply that students "owe" a professor a good evaluation just because he or she wrote a letter of recommendation. I just think it's bizarre that you'd ask someone for a favor--implying that you trust this person's professional qualifications and judgment--and then write an evaluation in which you basically deride their professional qualifications and judgment. And it also shows that flakes don't really know how the world operates.

  9. One of my friends had a student who went to office hours a lot for help, which my friend gave in a patient, friendly way despite said student's idiotic repetition of questions. This student also sucked up in class a lot, enough so that my friend realized it was an act, but that didn't soften the blow when she overheard the student refer to her as a lazy bitch.

    Do these flakes have any concept of us as human beings?

    P.S. This really was a friend and not me, unlike certain other proffies whose "friend" got hauled off to jail for speculating about mowing down a class with gunfire.

    1. No, but then they don't have much concept of anyone as human beings. It comes from a lifetime of staring at a small screen.

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  12. I had a gradflake from Japan, the culture where no one says "No," flat-out refuse to my face to do readings, because he thought they would interfere with his ideas. How quickly they learn our dysfunction, when it suits them. It mattered not that his ideas were cabbage, but since he'd done so little reading, he couldn't have known that.

    The topper, thhough, has to be the gradflake who'd been an officer in the U. S. Marine Corps. He didn't just slag me in an anonymous eval: he turned on me, to my face. I suppose the motto now is "Aliquando fidelis."

    Just as amazingly, it was because he was angry that I was making insufficiently fast progress for him on a paper on which I'd promised he'd be listed as a co-author. He threatened to report me to our incompetent department Chair, on whose shit list I was a perpetual resident. That struck terror into my heart since I was going up for tenure the next year.

    Even more astonishingly, it was totally unnecessary. He was an M.S. student I'd just helped be admitted to a Ph.D. program at another university. If the paper had taken me an extra year or even two (as it did, since we needed to go back to the telescope to get something he'd missed) or even three or four, he'd still have been in that Ph.D. program, and not yet on the job market, where having that extra paper listed on his vita could help him.

    But of course, he left that program within a year, since he'd tried to take it over. I heard that he was genuinely surprised by the chilly reception that got. Arrogance and ignorance are a bad combination.


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