For many of us student evals are what our merit evaluations hinge upon. Good student evals make you a good teacher, bad ones do the opposite. This is unfortunate for the sociology teacher because sociology is an inherently subversive discipline. When students are upset by our classes it may be because they are actually learning or it could be because our teaching methods alienate and frustrate them. It’s hard to tell the difference sometimes. So, how can you get the good student evals you need and insure that student frustration is a by product of learning and not a byproduct of a poorly designed or implemented lesson plan? Do a mid-term evaluation of your courses.
A simple anonymous mid-term student evaluation of your course can give you great feedback while you still have time to make changes. On the day that I am going to administer the mid-term eval I start by telling my students that,
“These evals and the evals at the end of the term are very important to me and my career. When I was an undergraduate I used to think they were a big waste of time and that no one really read them or cared what was said on them. However, for a lecturer like myself, these evals are the only document that evaluates what we’ve done here in this room. My employer will only know what you tell them about this course. Your feedback is absolutely critical and all I ask is that you give me a moment of your time on these evals and be honest. If there is something you don’t like tell me how it could be improved. If there is something that you like a lot tell me what you liked about it. Today we will be doing mid-term evals because I want to hear from you and get ideas about this course while I still have time to implement them. If you have a good idea that I can implement right now, I will. You have my word.”
I’ve honed this intro over the years and I really like it because it addresses 2 key issues. 1) It communicates the importance of the evals and neutralizes student misconceptions about their irrelevance. 2) I ask them to tell me what they liked and didn’t like. Many of you may be thinking that asking students to complain about your course is counterproductive to getting solid evaluations, but I strongly believe that acknowledging that the course isn’t perfect is far more likely to engender sympathetic students. Students, by in large, don’t want to punish instructors they want to be heard and be told that their perspective on the course is valid and understood by the instructor. Acknowledging your imperfections openly will reduce the need for students to forcefully show you their point of view. This is hard and this goes back to the teaching with vulnerability we talked about already.
The real reason you want to do a mid-term eval is that it allows students to unload their frustrations before the final evaluations (which are viewed by your supervisors). It gives you time to make adjustments and have a better experience the last half of the semester. THIS IS CRUCIAL: read the mid-term evals right away and find at least one thing you can do or change right now, then do it, and then tell your students you heard them and made changes. This says to your students, “I’ve heard you and I care enough about our relationship to make changes right now.”
Be aware that mid-term evals can feel like a swift kick to the esophagus. Maybe I am too sensitve, but harsh evals can ruin my day. It’s hard to hear feedback that is short of constructive, but it’s crucial to growing as a teacher. I’ve also found that many of the really painful evals hurt precisely because their critiques are so dead on. The pain sometimes comes from being accurate and from my inability to think of a solution at the moment. However, these evals are the weathervane pointing to the areas you need to refocus your attention on.
*While I wrote this eval myself, I can’t really claim it as my own intellectual property nor do I care to. I have borrowed from or been inspired by many many evaluations created by my colleagues. So many that I can’t even give credit to them here. Thank you to all my colleagues and mentors for helping develop this form. Also, please feel free to take my form, edit it, and share it without attributing it to me. Just enjoy it and things are square with me.