Last semester my academic performance took a dip for various reasons, but I can recover from this. I can make it up to myself (and in fact am doing so by rewriting the papers I turned in). However, I worried about traumatizing my students, or wasting their time--this is not as easily made up.
To my surprise and relief, the vast majority of my evaluations were positive, and enthusiastically so. I got some great feedback on what assignments worked, what readings were helpful, and was even told that my occasional profanity "made lectures more interesting."
There was of course, one smarty pantsed kid who sneered how often I cancelled class. My attendance policy is pretty much "someone is paying for this, so make it worth your money's while and show up to class." This is exactly what the kid targeted, despite the fact that s/he gave me perfect marks everywhere else. S/he felt that they didn't get their money's worth. I am indignant, and frustrated because I'll never get the chance to defend myself! So please, allow me to explain:
- When I held student conferences (once at midterms, again at finals) I cancelled class.
- When I had car trouble on ONE occasion, I was forced to cancel class, as my classroom was located on red-headed-stepchild campus.
- There was one time that was a bit extraneous, I admit--but they'd finished their peer reviews earlier than I'd expected and I didn't have anything planned (except for a giant stack of grading and my own papers to write). So I told them to take the day to work on polishing their papers.
Since we're in the arena of "getting our money's worth" I'm tempted to resort to the fact that I taught the course for free. OK, maybe not quite. It's a pretty sweet deal to get my tuition paid for, I won't lie. I will note, however, that the stipend, whether I am teaching one course or two, doesn't budge. At least someone's getting their money's worth in this scenario--grad students work cheap!
I shouldn't let one silly remark like this get to me, but it does. What I ought to focus on is that, for as useless as I feel in directing discussion or teaching in general, my students approve of me. Funny that a part of me thinks: but on what authority do they judge my teaching? How do THEY know what makes a good teacher? I'm not sure who I'm looking for a pat on the back from, if its not from my students.
The purpose of these evaluations is not clear to me. One of the big-gun composition program people told me point blank that they are useless. I don't know who sees them, and what impact they have on my future. It sounds silly to admit, but I'll do so here, in pseudonymity.
When do the evaluations come back to haunt me, or help me?