Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Evaluating my evaluations

This morning, the big white, whirring garbage truck hoisted our blue recycling bin off the driveway and dumped its contents into the cavernous bed.

The truck's compactor then unceremoniously squashed 24 years of student evaluations of my teaching into illegibility.

I stopped teaching last year but I continued to horde away in the basement my college course evaluations from as far back as 1986. Somewhere in the basement may be ratings from an even earlier teaching stint in the late Sixties and Seventies.

When I find them, they’ll go curbside too.

Why did I keep those dozens of envelopes, one for each and every class I have ever taught?

At one point I thought they might help me get a job. To a hiring committee, I might say, but never did, “Here, sort through this box and pick a course at random. Let my students do the talking.”

Maybe I kept them because I remember how I’d expectantly wait to get the evaluations back from the dean. He always got first crack at them and then would seal them in a big security envelope. My feeling while tearing it open was similar to the anticipation I had as a student when my grades came in the mail. Two As, two Bs and a C — or some such.

For me my “grades” from my students were check-mark rankings from “among the very best” to “among the very worst.” A simple check in a box summarized ten weeks of “having” me.

Most of the time I was “very good” to “good” with a rare — GLORY BE! — “among the very best.”

Occasionally I’d get a student who was, as they say, a “bad fit.” I would conclude that we were, forced to be together, “among the very worst.”

It happens.

I remember one who reported that my “teaching style” didn’t fit with her “learning style.” I had utterly and insensitively failed to “adjust,” she noted. I confess, I was late to get with the whole “learning styles” issue. I’m sure I never mastered it. The good news is that the other students didn’t seem to have a problem with me, stylistically.

Perhaps they adjusted.

The majority of written comments, like he check marks, were quite positive. As of this morning's garbage collection, I am not longer capable of quoting from them ... and that’s okay. You’re going to have to trust me — not that it really matters.

After my retirement, I think I kept the evaluations just in case I needed to be reminded that my teaching was not just good, but worthwhile. The classes made a difference and some students said so, sometimes glowingly.

As it turns out, I haven’t needed the reminder. I never looked at the evaluations after my first eager-anxious reading. I’m still in touch with a few of my students. I’m proud of them. They are the best “evaluations” a teacher can have.

Since the evaluations were trucked off this morning, I have had no regrets. If anything, it’s good to be rid of those envelopes. To know the paper will be recycled and that our basement is one box less cluttered with the useless relics of a useful life.

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Anonymous Chris said...

I still have my employee evaluations from a place I haven't worked at in 8 years. I don't know why i keep them - every once in a while when I'm cleaning up I'll find them and read a couple. I have a hard time throwing that stuff away for some reason. Strange the things we hang on to!

10:34 PM  

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