Friday, January 13, 2012

Michael from Manchester Wonders About Teaching Evaluations.

In response to the question "how should teaching be evaluated?" all the studies [assume needed citations] show that a peer review by a colleague is by far the best way to go. And this is so: properly conducted, a peer review offers the reviewer an unparalleled opportunity for self-aggrandizement, opportunistic political manoeuvering and payback with impunity for slights real or imagined, as well as innocent entertainment for any readers of your victim's file.

Here are a few simple rules for such a review:

1. Before the class observation, the instructor will send you the syllabus, handouts, website, bibliography and class schedule. Ignore all these; information about the content, structure, preparation, intent and assessment of the course is irrelevant to your review.

2. Arrive for your classroom observation late and noisily, pushing past students to sit in the middle of a row. You want to test how the instructor handles a little disruption.

3. Ostentatiously set up your laptop and make it clear you're looking things up throughout the class. Nudge the student beside you occasionally and point at your screen, rolling your eyes at the instructor and snickering just audibly.

4. As you take notes, remember to sneer. If the instructor is in a position to see your notepad, be sure to circle your observations in red and add multiple exclamation marks. Look gleeful.

5.Leave hastily afterwards without bothering to speak to your colleague or thank him for allowing you to attend the class. Common courtesy is for weaklings.

6. Remember that a peer review is not intended as a review of your colleague's teaching. That is only the cover story. It's really an opportunity to show how much better you would have taught the class. It's particularly important to show this if you aren't actually qualified to teach it yourself. You have a right to be bitter.

7. Assume that any decisions your colleague has made about texts, references, teaching techniques and evaluation practices were hasty, ill-considered, ill-informed, irresponsible and based on laziness and stupidity. After all, those decisions cannot have been founded on research, consultation with those who actually do know something about the subject, careful consideration, or your colleague's lengthy experience in teaching in this field. (Feel free to ignore the fact that your colleague isn't known for hastiness, lack of responsibility, laziness or stupidity. Maybe they weren't before, but that's all going to change once your letter is in their file.)

8. Fling as much mud as you can. Some of it is bound to stick. And wasn't that the point? They feel worse, so you must feel better. It's a zero-sum game, baby. If they can't stand the heat ...

9. Remember, the point of a peer review is not to be collegial, helpful, or even to give your colleague any honest advice they could actually use to improve the course. The point of a peer review is to wave your tiny, shrivelled, flaccid, pathetic organ about. So -

10. Wave it!


  1. You can add the following:

    4A. To show due respect for the colleague being evaluated, fall asleep as soon as possible and remain so for most of the lecture.

    11. Repeat evaluations often--each lecture, if possible--in order to ensure "quality" education and student "confidence" in the aforementioned colleague.

    12. Remember all shortcomings and deficiencies for future reference and forget any corrections made. Create any necessary details as required. This will be particularly useful for performance appraisals, especially those several years from now.

    1. Lord Kelvin used to do 4A. Woe to the junior scientist in whose talk he would awaken. One of them was Rutherford, who noted:

      "I came into the room, which was half dark, and presently spotted Lord Kelvin in the audience and realised that I was in for trouble at the last part of my speech dealing with the age of the earth, where my views conflicted with his. To my relief, Kelvin fell fast asleep, but as I came to the important point, I saw the old bird sit up, open an eye and cock a baleful glance at me! Then a sudden inspiration came, and I said Lord Kelvin had limited the age of the earth, provided no new source (of energy) was discovered. That prophetic utterance refers to what we are now considering tonight, radium! Behold! the old boy beamed upon me."

  2. I am having flashbacks. Excuse me. I must go find my xanax.

  3. I certainly recognize the very real possibility of all of the above occurring. Heck, I've been to enough conference panels and "invited talks" that are really auditions for a job-that-might-be-created to recognize that academics can be nastily competitive, and in places where teaching is the main area of evaluation, I'm sure the same nastiness can apply to peer teaching evaluation.

    But I must say I've been very lucky. The class visit reports I've received have ranged from a bit vague but supportive to supportive in carefully-chosen detail (even the one written about a visit that took place after a full week of snow days, with the students woefully unprepared; my visitor praised my approach to getting things back on track). The worst experience was with a colleague who was genuinely helpful but a bit overwhelming in the sheer number of suggestions for small but useful improvements she made, and that was hardly a bad thing, just a bit of a shock at the time (and a bit worrying given that the report was meant to be evaluative as well as developmental; other colleagues, mindful of the dual role of the visit, saved some of their developmental suggestions for a conversation, focusing their letters more on areas where they could be completely positive). So, yes, I'd say that there needs to be a system in place to get a second opinion if need be, and of course there needs to be general good will among colleagues (never to be assumed, I realize), and real effort put into the evaluation, and attention to the course materials as well as in-class interaction on the single day of the visit, but, all in all, I'm happy to have class visits as part of our process (and definitely much, much happier than if student evaluations were given greater weight than peer ones, though in practice, since we're only visited every few years, I suppose the student evaluations do get more weight).

  4. I'm glad we no longer have any dickheads like this in my department. (Our deadwood are excused from doing peer evaluations, because they're both in the early retirement program.) If we did, now that I'm Chair again, I'd say, "Excuse me, but the point is NOT to see how much stress we can inflict on the junior faculty. We're supposed to HELP them!" And then I'd staple his dick to the floor, with a heavy-duty, industrial-grade staple gun.

    And even if I did, you must confess this beats student evaluations.


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