Not Selected

May 25, 2011 § 9 Comments

After about an hour of talking on the phone, texting, and e-mailing everyone, it’s now your turn my wonderful, supportive, incredible readers.

...sigh...

I wasn’t accepted My application was not selected for the job I had applied for back in April.

I’m disappointed. And so very sad.

It’s taking a great deal of effort to feel confident now, and to change my phrasing from “I wasn’t accepted” to “my application wasn’t selected.” Both my husband and my father have assured me that it wasn’t a personal attack. So, following the deeply solicited advice from two of the most important men in my life, I am trying to change the way I look at this rejection.

It’s difficult not to see it as a personal attack, especially after I made a point to meet with the director in charge of hiring. I thought I had made a good impression on her, but as the weeks dragged on from April 11th to now, I began to doubt that impression.

I didn’t even get a real interview. I wish I had. Because I have amazing ideas for that job that I didn’t have the opportunity to share with her when we met the first time.

As I said, I’m disappointed and so very sad.

What will August look like now?

I can’t even think about it.

But thank you to all of you who offered me support and encouragement while I prepared to apply for this job, and especially while I waited and waited and waited to hear back. I really drew a great deal of comfort and confidence from you all.

If only they were all this easy.

May 9, 2011 § 8 Comments

When I was sixteen years old, I marched into Michael’s Arts and Crafts after a particularly huge fight with my mom.

I don’t have to study, Mom! School’s so easy! I yelled at her, full of snot and annoyance.
Amanda, she began slowly. I knew better than to push her further when she spoke this slowly. It was the warning sign that my supposedly unfair life was about to become exponentially worse. I want you to take school seriously. You’ll be applying for college before you know it, and I want you to be able to have your choice of school.
I rolled my eyes. Even over a decade later, I am sure I rolled my eyes at her. That always set her off.
Fine. If you don’t want to study, then you have to do something else productive. I don’t want you wasting your time in front of the computer anymore. She wasn’t joking. I had a choice now: I could choose to cave in to my mother’s keen observations, or I could fight her and get a job.

So, there I was, marching into Michael’s Arts and Crafts, on my way to apply for what would end up becoming my first job.

“Hey…are y’all, uhm…hiring…?” I asked, feeling suddenly shy and depleted of my earlier piss and vinegar that motivated me to snatch the car keys from my mom’s purse and squeal out of the driveway.

“Yeah!” the girl behind the register said cheerfully. It was obvious that I was her only source of entertainment that morning. “And actually, the manager who does the hiring is here now. I’ll go get him. You fill this out.” She handed me a notepad of preprinted applications. I had never done one of these before, and I was nervous. Who do I list as a reference? I had no choice but to call my mom, even though I wanted to give her the silent treatment. She spoke to me as though I hadn’t erupted at her only moments ago. And advised I list a few of our longtime neighbors. I don’t think either of us thought that I would actually get this job.

The cashier returned with the manager who shook my hand, took my application from me, and invited me back to his office. It was then my heart started to race. I felt like I was in an audition. I hated auditions. I gave myself a mental pep talk as we worked our way through the store, through the warehouse in the back, to his messy and cramped office tucked away in a back corner. Something tiny and meek cried out a warning of “stranger danger” to me, but I ignored her childish fear. This was a grown-up, and I was a grown-up now too, doing grown-up things like getting a shitty hourly job.

He invited me to sit down in a tattered, brown vinyl and cloth chair. It creaked beneath my small frame–I was embarrassed and nervous by the unexpected noise. He read my application silently before turning to me with a big smile and asked me a series of questions. My answers were simple to most of them: I had never worked before, so I had absolutely no frame of reference. In spite of my lack of experience (or perhaps because of it), he said, “Amanda, I’d like to offer you the job of cashier. Now, you would be responsible for answering the PA when you hear your name called or a general call for cashiers. You’ll man a specific register until the crowd dissipates or you’re released for break. When you’re not on a register, you’ll handle small jobs throughout the store which can range from answering customer questions to unpacking boxes from warehouses to cleaning up messes in the aisles. Your starting wages will be $5 an hour.”

Of course, I accepted. That was more than my allowance had ever been. I suddenly had visions of Disc-Mans and nail polish. I would be rich!

I hated my job at Michael’s, but I stayed as long as I could without seeming like a total wimp. I was even promoted to head cashier (who mans the customer service register) about two months before I quit. My second job was as a kennel worker at our cats’ veterinarian hospital. I hated that job, too. It wasn’t all about walking and playing with dogs. It was all about poop. And blood. And being bitten. And noise. And wet dogs and cats. And horrible staff managers who had impossible land-speed dog-walking goals for her laborers. I rarely saw the veterinarian who hired me, the man I admired so much. I stayed there for about a year. My third job was at Galyan’s (now Dick’s in most places) as a sales associate in the men’s casual wear section. I folded clothes, sided with wives who wanted their husbands just to try the damn shorts on, and sucked ass at earning commission. I wasn’t as pushy as other associates. If a customer didn’t find the exact style he was looking for, I wouldn’t push a different style on him. I’d just let him walk out the door. My fourth and fifth jobs were at my undergraduate–as a Writing Center peer tutor and a member of our newspaper staff, respectively. I loved those jobs. My sixth job was as a graduate teaching assistant for the English department at my graduate school. I just gave that job up in favor of my secret seventh job: writing a dissertation.

All six of my paying jobs have one thing in common: I worked very little at actually getting the job. For Michael’s and the vet, I walked in and had an interview and job offer in the same trip. For Galyan’s, my granddaddy pulled strings and got me an interview (he worked in the hunting and fishing department). My composition teacher asked me specifically to apply for the position at the Writing Center. As an English major (who had many friends on staff), I was practically a shoo-in for the newspaper job. The GTA-ship essentially went along with the acceptance into graduate school. (Although I did have to practically beg for that in the very beginning…that was as much effort as I put into getting the job.)

But, although I was encouraged by my dissertation chair to apply for this job, her encouragement stops there–she has no say in whether or not I get the job I so badly want. I have taken the steps: I met the director ahead of time, and I submitted my application almost a month ago.

And now I have come to learn that the waiting is the worst part. I’ve never had to wait more than a day before.

This is an entirely different animal. I have stopped logging into the website obsessively. It’s been over a week now since she started reviewing the application materials. I know this because I received a phone call from a representative in HR on April 29th requesting me to resubmit my application materials. “We can’t get them to open, and the department you applied to can’t open them either.” I could only stammer that they were saved as PDFs and should be easily opened. “Well,” he said, “we were able to open everybody else’s applications, but yours was the only one that caused us trouble.” That doesn’t help me. What do I care if they were able to open everyone else’s but mine? I try not to obsess over the phrase “everybody else’s”…how many “everybody elses” are there? It’s a useless question to ask and only causes me gastric discomfort.

No, they can’t all be as easy as walking in on a Saturday morning and walking out with a job.

Would it even be worth it if it were?

Seeking external motivation: the power of a job application

April 21, 2011 § 11 Comments

I stare at the Word document. It stares right on back. Jeering. Judging. Judging? Definitely judging. Why don’t you just go ahead and write something then? It taunts me. I sigh and fight the urge to open WordPress.com to begin another hour-long marathon of blog-reading. Do it. The document seems to say. You can’t write today anyway. You’re too tired. You’re too bored. You’re too lame. You’re too incapable.

Instead of succumbing to the document’s powerful fighting words, I open a new window in Safari. But not to visit WordPress.com. Instead, I visit my university employment site. I log in. And I see something beautiful. Under the words “Application Status” are the glorious and truly validating words “Forwarded to hiring department.”

This is not the first time I’ve read this memo. I must have logged in to this system at least five times since yesterday. Seven times since Tuesday night when I came home in tears over blog grades. Were they happy tears? I think so. And angry tears. Tears that indicated the vindication I so desperately sought from a department that won’t offer it. Come on, I told myself. Seriously. What English department actually vindicates its graduate students? I thought of my undergraduate English department. Yeah, I corrected myself. You weren’t a graduate student then. I wanted to buck-up or maybe I wanted to continue ripping apart my self-esteem. I logged onto the employment site for the first time since submitting my application and saw the status was, gloriously, updated as though to say, “Amanda, we think you’re all right!” I fought back more tears. I was too tired to deal with this, but I went to bed happy. I made it through one more hoop.

Since Tuesday, I have logged onto that site in the moments when self-doubt and -deprecation threaten to creep back in. I want nothing more than to silence that voice that has seemed to locate a megaphone in my mind and that hourly shouts at me, “You are such a fucking loser!”

Knowing my application has been approved by someone with the expertise to approve such things offers that megaphone-voice the equivalent of a mental raspberry. Pbbt! I imagine spitting at the negativity. Gosh darn it someone likes me! I giggle at my own reference to early Franken.

Somehow this job application, this whimsical hope, this dream, this fantasy has been enough to spur me onward. I have been productive–if not every moment on my dissertation, then I have been a more productive teacher in these past few days. I have graded more, lesson-planned better, conducted more analytical and interesting class discussions. I have written over twelve pages all told. I have compiled disparate secondary sources and identified the ways in which I will use each one. I am ready to move forward and finish.

This job, this fantasy has offered me a concrete finish line.

“It will be extremely difficult for someone to do this job well while also finishing a dissertation,” she told me confidentially. I smiled and assured her I’d be finished by the beginning of August.

And I will be.

I will be because this job is important. And I want this job. This specific job. This isn’t just any job in the wide world. This is a great job. An interesting job. A job I know I would do well. It shouldn’t even have been available this year, but thank goodness that it is.

Even though the promise of the job is as solid as gossamer, belief in it fortifies the fantasy until it can withstand the weight of my dissertation, of my motivation.

Evidence of a failed assignment

April 20, 2011 § 12 Comments

A couple of weeks ago, I had my annual review. And I subsequently blogged about it. Twice.

Yesterday, I completed my students’ blog grades for the semester and had Excel do all the math for me. I utilized my Average and Sum formulas, and these are the results.

Spring 2010: I think I have a different concept of "failure"....

Clearly my students failed to remember their blogs, three days a week (including Sunday nights).

Obviously they failed to complete the assignment in a satisfactory manner.

I had a horrible idea that wasted not only my students’ time but mine as well.

See?

And, in case you were curious, these are the results from the previous semesters.

Summer 2010: the pilot class

Fall 2010: section 1

Fall 2010: section 2

From the Other Side of the Desk: help me help you

April 13, 2011 § 16 Comments

Probably the single best part about the actual instruction involved with teaching is the motivation, the encouragement. I love it. I thrive on it. It happens all too infrequently.

Yesterday was a great teaching day. Class clicked along swimmingly (although discussion was a bit one-sided for my tastes), I had a few opportunities to demonstrate my generous benevolence, and I met with a few students in my office a full gasp! nine days before the paper is due! (That’s not meant to be read as sarcasm…I am truly astonished and thrilled.)

This paper that my students are writing is an experiment. All semester, I have asked them to consider the theme of “Identity” throughout these World Literature II texts. Generally speaking, I believe we’ve done a stand-up job. This final paper condenses a semester’s worth of lectures and thoughts into a single moment, a single exploration of the Self. I have assigned my students the weighty and nigh-on impossible task of crafting their own identities. They will interact with the literature, though, analyzing the authors’ approach to identity-making and mimicking as best they can the approaches that work best for them. I expect some creativity. I want some sparkle. This could be the last paper I read for quite some time (and at least until August–since I won’t teach this summer), so why not go out on an experimental high note? So far, I believe they are enjoying the journey. Many of them are relieved to find out that I’m fairly loosey-goosey on this particular assignment…unlike the first one which was very rules-y. (We must all learn to write in specific landscapes, yes?)

Yesterday’s good teaching day allowed me a moment’s meditation (and only a moment) on the loveliness of helping. And, in light of that, I’d like to write a short open letter to students everywhere.

To all students present and future:

To borrow a line from Jerry Maguire, please help me help you. Give me the chance to demonstrate to you my knowledge. Allow me the opportunity to attempt to motivate you. Ask me questions. Open up. Be honest. Reveal your insecurities, your concerns, your fears. Be receptive to my advice, my recommendations, my suggestions. Take notes while I expound on my answers to your questions. Demonstrate to me that you are actively listening. When I see you take notes, feverishly writing to keep up with my fevered counsel, a fire burns in my heart and I become proud. I become confident. I realize that I have something of value to offer you. Give me that chance because the more often you do so, the better my advice will be.

Let me celebrate with you. Tell me about the times when you broke through your Writer’s Block. Share with me the harrowing tale of your 2 a.m. Dorito’s and Mountain Dew bender at the library and the genius that pored forth from your fingertips to the keyboard. Recount for me the time you showed your classmate a rough draft in an impromptu peer review, and how it helped you. Give me the gift of collegial joy. I’m a writer, too. I can revel in your successes, too. I can live vicariously through your victories, your triumphs, your battles hard-won, too.

Help me help you.

Offer me a moment to teach you, to feel a burst of confidence when you promise to get it, and to experience the utter, bone-deep pride when you actually do.

Respectfully yours,
Mrs. H.

How to remain hopeful without obsessing

April 11, 2011 § 9 Comments

This afternoon’s meeting with the director went rather well. These are my immediate impressions: 1. I want this job, 2. the director is really kind and genuinely cares about students and their needs, 3. I want this job.

I went in and essentially interviewed her. I asked her what the job entails (more specifically than what is listed on the job description). I asked her what needs she feels are lacking suitable attention right now. I asked her about her vision for the future of the position, the future of the office. I asked her about staffing concerns, training concerns, usage concerns.

I attempted to exude confidence, genuine interest and concern for the job (because, well, I am genuinely interested and concerned). I wanted her to see in me the Perfect Candidate. I don’t know if I successfully achieved that–there were obvious areas where I am green, but she seemed willing to overlook those in lieu of other types of experience.

And now I’m sitting here wanting this job so badly I can feel it in my bones. I took a nap this afternoon and actually dreamt about what I would do in this job.

The trouble, of course, with wanting something this bad is that there is a great deal of room for disappointment. But…this is different. I didn’t want the fellowship as badly as I want this job. And I really wanted that fellowship. That should indicate just how badly I want this job. I want to do this specific job because I believe I would be an amazing fit–I have the requisite energy, enthusiasm, and vision. I want this specific job because it would be an amazing fit–it appeals to so many of my interests, concerns, and motivations.

I would do a great job at this job. And I truly believe that this job would do a great job…at me. I feel confident when speaking about details that concern the job with friends. I have innovative, progressive ideas that support the job’s current mission but improve upon its strengths.

I am trying to keep my hopes up, my confidence up…but also not depend solely on this job as an option. I will still be keeping my eyes open.

Like the girl who really wishes that cute boy would ask her to prom, I’ll hedge my bets and consider dancing with that boy with the headgear…but secretly, I really really hope the hot one asks me out.

What a difference a week makes

April 9, 2011 § 15 Comments

Last week, that is March 28-April 2nd, was kind of a bummer for me. I had to make a conscious stab at happiness in many, many ways. Although last week was by no means the first time I had experienced this sort of thing, it is still something I do not seek out nor particularly appreciate experiencing.

And then difference!

During my lunch meeting with my directing professor, she encouraged me to apply for a position that was just posted on our university website. Nervous, I went home and read the job description. A lot of work…a lot of responsibility…still working within the university but not part of Academia proper…. It looked perfect. I started working on converting my CV into a resume–a really daunting and monstrous task. I wrote and rewrote a cover letter for the first time in my adult life–cover letters and statements of purpose are just not the same thing.

If I were to get this job, I would be able to work with a university that I have come to love (ever since I was a little girl), but more importantly, I would serve students in an advisory capacity. It is not the instruction, advising, or interaction with students that factors into my trouble with teaching. My trouble with teaching falls almost squarely upon the anxiety and agony I feel when forced to grade student work. It takes too long for me to go through a paper, and the reason is that I sit and imagine a scenario where a student will quibble over that one comment or those three points off. What will I tell this student? If they come to argue, how would I justify my decision? I go through this with every single comment on every single paper. Multiply that by 60 students in a semester (for a 2-course semester, which is light–most instructors are given at least a four-course teaching load), and you have a great deal of mental and emotional energy spent on something that probably didn’t require it. (Yeah…ask me, of the 60 students in a single semester, how many of them come to argue about the three points I lost sleep over.)

This job would be the best of both worlds. I would be able to teach without grading. I would be able to interact with students in a capacity that utilized both my degree and training in a way that could actually make me happy. I would make a contribution and feel (at least more than I am now) appreciation.

Yesterday I met with the graduate student whose position this new job will be replacing, and he gave me a great deal of encouragement. Obviously, he didn’t divulge any nasty secrets (I’m not interested in them), but he gave me a very practical picture of what this job is. It’s a lot of work. But I thrive on work. I love work. And I believe I would really love this work.

I can’t get this job out of my mind. I can’t stop brainstorming ideas of how I would improve upon some of the methods already in place. I want this bad.

I meet with the woman who’s in charge of hiring Monday afternoon (in other words, the director–the boss-lady). I really just want her to be able to associate the name on my application with my face. (Brilliant idea by A.Mo., R, and V, by the way. They’re such awesome friends!) I actually feel excited about the prospect of this meeting rather than daunted by it. (Maybe as Monday draws nearer, I’ll feel more daunted…but I don’t know….) I actually want to get the meeting “over with” because I want her to hear how awesome I would be at this job. How excited I am about working in this particular position and in this particular capacity. How perfect I am for this program.

Keep your fingers, toes, eyes, hair, everything crossed for me, my friends. A.Hab. really really wants this job! 🙂

Blogs and Writing Pedagogy: what I should have said

April 7, 2011 § 22 Comments

“I just don’t see the blogs accomplishing your pedagogy like you think they do.”

I sit there, blinking. Crap. My jaw clenches. Don’t you cry, Amanda. Not now. Not in your annual review. I am so miserable in my job, and I’m positive he can tell. Despite my best efforts to prepare a portfolio that might suggest otherwise, I’m sure he can tell that I have been miserable for quite some time. But I’m afraid. If I tell him the truth, what consequences could I stand to risk? Might I be strung up? Would this follow me my entire life? If a potential employer asks him about my teaching experience, will I be ruined? Buck up. Seriously. Stop. Just don’t say anything. If you talk, you’ll definitely cry. Just don’t say anything.

“According to your students, they had trouble remembering to do the blogs. And it looks like they’re not worth much, only 10% of the overall grade, so doing them doesn’t really affect their overall grade.”

“Actually,” I cut in, my voice breaking. “They’re part of the 10% daily grade, which also includes quizzes.”

“Right, I saw that on your policy statement. That’s redundant. Daily quizzes and three blogs a week.”

“They’re not daily quizzes,” I try to explain. The tears are starting to rise up. Can he tell? “I give the quizzes randomly, but on average there are ten quizzes in a semester.”

“Okay, so my point is that the blogs don’t count for much, and if they’re sharing that 10% of the daily grade with a few quizzes, then they count for even less. Do you see how that gives the students little incentive to want to even do them in the first place?”

It takes a conscious effort to nod. Don’t say anything or else you’ll start crying. Shit, why are you such a baby? You’ve never been like this before in an annual review! Can’t you take criticism at all??

“Why did you come up with the blog assignment at all?”

The question surprises me. Catches me off-guard. It shouldn’t because I’ve been asked it before. Except…this is different. I think when I’ve been asked this question, it’s usually been phrased with the word how. This feels immediately judgmental. He has already made up his mind. He’s looking for a reason to change his mind. I won’t give it to him. I can’t give it to him. Not without crying.

“I-I guess I just…” I swallow. “To me, they’re like critical reading responses except the students have the opportunity to read each other’s responses and then respond to them as well. I wanted to keep the conversation going, I guess. I just….”

“Okay, but I’m not sure that it does that for you. The students remarked about how they often forgot to even do the blogs in the first place. I would recommend either eliminating the blogs entirely, reducing the number of blogs they should do in a week, or eliminate quizzes. Actually, I think I would recommend reducing the number of blogs in a week and eliminate the quizzes.”

I’m back to blinking. I really like the blogs. My students had seemed to really like the blogs. My mind is reeling. They forgot to do the blogs? But…according to my grade book, most of my students did most, if not all, of the blogs…. I have more students with perfect blog grades than students with failing blog grades. I don’t understand why they would claim that they didn’t remember to do them…. That’s not true….

The rest of the review continues in a similar vein. He pulls out the already-written assessment report, crosses out the word “eliminate” and replaces it with “reconsider” so that the final sentence now reads, “reconsider the blog assignments.” I sign the form, representing my agreement to his report. He was going to tell me to eliminate the blogs entirely…. My first out-of-the-box assignment failed. I walk out of his office and quickly get into mine, closing the door, and collecting myself. Don’t cry, not now. One more meeting. Don’t cry. I pull it together after ten minutes, and I am late to my next meeting. But I’m not in tears.

After several days of consideration, I realize now what I should have said. And now that I am beginning to apply for jobs, I realize what I did by not defending myself–if he serves as a reference, then he will deliver the same report he gave during my annual review. If I mention the blog assignment in my application materials (in spite of everything, I am still proud of it), then I now face the risk of the hiring manager asking him, “She mentioned something about blogs. What do you know about that assignment?” And what will he say? I surely can’t know, but I have a good guess.

I should have defended myself. I should have given him something else to say.

The blogs work.

1. Overall quiz grades from semesters without blogs to semesters with blogs have marked improvement. The reason? Students are reading. They have to do the readings in order to write the blogs. And if they did the readings, then they will do well on quizzes. Although I do change questions from time to time on my quizzes, the type of information I’m searching for is pretty consistent from semester to semester. My students’ daily grade average has improved.

2. They are a low-stakes assignment purposefully designed to be low-stakes. If a student forgets to write a blog once or twice, his or her daily average is not ruined. But, completing all blog assignments on time and receiving a perfect score on the blogging assignment by the end of the semester is equal to receiving perfect scores on four quizzes. It is a “gimme” assignment, but it’s supposed to be. Students are not graded on quality or content of the blog, except according to some basic standards (it should be about a specific text assigned that day and it should be analytical). They are not graded on how well they analyze (unlike their papers), but instead they are given an opportunity to practice analysis in a way that will not hurt their overall grade.

3. Class discussions are much more focused on critically analyzing the texts rather than “walking through” the plots. Students will chime in and say, “Yeah! I wrote about that on my blog!” And others will respond to that student in class. The classroom rapport is typically supportive, congenial, and encouraging. Because a student was able to sort of “try out” his or her idea on a personal blog, the idea was given space to develop so that it would be fully-formed by the time s/he brings it up in class. Even when students disagree with one another’s points, the comments are polite, respectful, and explanatory. They learn not only how to make their own points but also how to properly counter-argue against someone else’s points respectfully.

4. Papers and essay questions on exams are generally more analytical than summative. My students have physical evidence that their peers have previous knowledge of the text, so there is little reason to summarize major plot points. Because they’ve had the chance to practice analysis without fear of failure, they are often more confident in the presentation of their arguments. Because of this, I’ve been able to ask more from my students. And, for the most part, they deliver.

5. The blogs reinforce to my students the idea that one cannot be a good reader without writing, and one cannot be a good writer without reading. Although my students may have more writing assignments in a literature course than others may have, my students not only get the point but have it demonstrated to them that reading and writing are inextricable.

6. I use the blogs myself as a guide for class discussions. I usually try to peruse the blogs the day of class (since blogs are due by midnight the day before), and through that perusal I’ll see what they are confused about, what was interesting to them, what they really gravitated toward. And I will tailor class discussion based on their needs–do we need to unpack that theme more? explore that concept? Judging by exams, my students do get more out of these discussions from the blog posts.

I realize now that I should have defended myself and my blogs.

They work.

If I were to teach again, I would absolutely keep the blogs with no changes whatsoever. They would still be worth very little on the overall grade because low-stakes grades work. There would still be three blogs due every week. They would still have the same number of required words due per post.

My writing pedagogy is that through practice (constant, consistent practice), students develop basic communication skills as well as sophisticated analytical skills. Ideas develop best through writing. Texts are explored best through writing. Learning to write properly will inevitably lead to the ability to articulate an intelligent thought eloquently (either in speech or the written word). If my students are to believe that the literature was not composed within a vacuum, then I should demonstrate to them precisely how one composes devoid of a vacuum. And, thanks to the power of the Internet and new social media, blogs are a perfect method to free writing from a vacuum-like experience.

That’s what I should have said.

From the Other Side of the Desk: student evaluations and annual reviews

April 6, 2011 § 14 Comments

I have really hesitated to write this post because I fully intend to criticize that most sacred of qualitative measure: the student evaluations.

If you are unfamiliar with student evaluations, allow me to educate you. A student evaluation is a form typically consisting of two parts. The first portion is commonly a Scantron sheet where students will rate elements of the classroom experience: the professor’s knowledge base, the clarity of the professor’s voice, the level of preparation required for this course. The second portion is ofttimes optional and can come in the form of a short-answer questionnaire where the students will “honestly” respond to questions specifically directed to that course. (For instance, there is a questionnaire for the composition classes as well as for the literature classes.) Students complete these forms on the last day of class meeting, and they typically take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes to complete. While the students evaluate their professor and overall classroom experience, the professor is proctoring someone else’s evaluations–no professor remains in his or her own classroom during this time. It is less intimidating to the students this way and encourages them to be more honest in their responses.

The evaluations are sent off to a school somewhere else in the country (ours are sent somewhere to the West…I think) where the Scantrons are scored and averages on a scale of 0-5 are mathematically figured. The reports return to the home university and are submitted to the appropriate professors typically around mid-semester of the following term. Sure, it’s too late now to really implement any changes or recommendations stated within the evaluations, but at least the students’ responses are kept anonymous, grades for that class have already been reported, and the professor likely won’t remember a specific student’s handwriting any more.

Although many professors wish this is where the evaluations might end, on their own desks to be used at their own discretion, this is typically not the evaluations’ final resting place. In many instances, particularly when it comes to junior colleagues and graduate students, student evaluations are normally requested to appear in a teaching portfolio for an annual review. (I believe this is also true for many jobs on the academic market. Potential employers would like to see the evaluations from previous students in order to glean an idea of the caliber teacher they might hire.) And this, my friends, is where I struggle with the usefulness of student evaluations.

Take calendar year 2010, for instance. I had three back-to-back-to-back tricky semesters. I had students who were highly combative, accusatory, and presumptive. I often felt nervous, panicked, and unconfident. I spent office hours dreading the footsteps echoing down the hallway, silently willing those footsteps not to be for me. This came to a head last semester when my office hours were after dark and a couple of my more combative students had spent the majority of the course shooting daggers at me. What had I done? Well, given them a quiz on a day they hadn’t read, of course. Or returned a paper with a lower grade than the student believed s/he deserved. Certainly worthy of a threatening glare. Because it’s entirely my fault a student did not achieve to his or her ability. Absolutely. Bad Mrs. H.

Because 2010 was so terrible, I refused to read my evaluations. Normally, I read my evaluations once the following semester has ended. Because we receive our evaluations in the middle of a semester, I never find it appropriate to read horrible comments and destroy my otherwise unwitting confidence. Normally, I read evaluations from Spring after Summer semester had ended. This way, I don’t waste my time midway through a semester with languishing energy and enthusiasm. 2010 was so truly awful that there has been little reason for me to read the evaluations from that year. And last Monday, during my annual review, my assumptions were confirmed. My students claimed that I was enthusiastic (a comment I always receive on evaluations), but they were unhappy with the blogs and quizzes. They believed the blogs were a waste of time and did not actually help their grade in the first place. So, students had little incentive to complete the blogs. This was a large portion of my annual review–and I just sat there, frozen into stunned silence, unable or unwilling to defend myself. I realize now what I should have said, but what’s the point?

Student evaluations have been infused with this sort of ethos that implies immediate expertise. Because Student A took Mrs. H’s World Lit. II class, Student A is an expert and is capable of evaluating his teacher.

It seems to me that in other professions where evaluations are considered during annual reviews, those evaluations are conducted by other professional peers/colleagues or (even better yet) by administrators. To be evaluated by someone who has absolutely no training in this field and little consideration for the relevance of the course, is laughable. Absurd. Of course my students didn’t want to do extra work. They would prefer to do no work. They would prefer to watch movies based on the books we’re reading. They would prefer not to have to read these books. They would prefer not to come to class at all. (I realize I’m generalizing–there are a few literature students out there who see the value in these courses, but rest assured that those students are few and far between. And their voices do not get heard nearly as well as the others’.) Judging from the recommendations of my annual review (and, mind, I still have not read the evaluations–why would I? my semester is going really well so far), I would guess that my students had absolutely no understanding for the concept of teaching and writing pedagogies as they apply to a literature classroom. When I discuss my methods with others, entirely devoid of student evaluations, I am met with encouragement and often words of support. When I discussed my methods with my reviewer, I was met with phrases like “I’m not sure this accomplishes your pedagogy as well as you think it does.” Really? Did my students who wrote the evaluations read every single student’s paper like I did? How could they properly assess just how well these methods have worked in my classroom? From my perspective, they were a stroke of genius (one likely never to be repeated–I have a feeling we’re all given one stroke of genius in our lifetimes…well, the normal people…the geniuses of course are granted more). But what do my untrained, 20-year-old students know about my methods? Those who care to ask me know a great deal more than those who do not care.

And, from my perspective at least, the number of students who do not care far outweigh the students who do. Yet both categories are encouraged to evaluate and assess me. I find it stunning that their assessments are taken seriously in the first place.

My conclusion is this: student evaluations should be kept to the absolute most basic of functions, and that should be to evaluate the course curriculum. Let the teaching professionals evaluate their junior colleagues. Leave the real evaluations and assessments to the professionals.

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March 28, 2011 Enter your password to view comments.

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