Monday, September 17, 2007

first-week evals?

Our office decided to spring something new on us, though I remember hearing rumblings of this over a year ago: evaluations done before the end of the semester. The idea, I think, is to get a "fair" reading of the teachers by catching students while they're still attending our classes, i.e., long before they drop out, leaving only the most dedicated students to give us artificially high ratings at the very end.

Personally, I don't mind this at all. As the illustrious, intelligent, and well-hung (er, flight suit moment) president of my country says, "Bring it on!" I've had high ratings during the semesters we've taught Freshman English; the students are required to attend those classes, and they do so for credit, which means that even the students who hate our classes will be there to rate us.

But what the office did this time around was to distribute eval forms to the students this past Friday and today... barely a week after the beginning of term. Let me ask you: does this seem rational? The first two weeks of term are when the students are still busy shopping: some drop out and move to another level; others drop out entirely, suddenly realizing they are unable to commit themselves to the schedule and/or to the workload. Students simply haven't settled into a routine yet.*

As I said, I'm fine with evals any old time, but it seems to me that, if the office wants to get some real dirt on us teachers, they should wait until about the midterm period to gather the incriminating data. That way, they'll have a large data sample (most students will still be attending the class), and the students will have had time to get familiar with their teachers, the course, and the flaws of both.

Let's not bullshit ourselves: that's what this move was all about. The office is trying to determine what it can do to increase student enrollment, and instead of looking at the possibility that it might be doing something wrong (e.g., not marketing the English program aggressively enough), or that the students might be trending away from hagwon-style lessons and toward study-abroad programs, the office aims to fix blame on the teachers. As always, the easy way out.

The major clue for this is that we teachers weren't informed that the first-week evals would be happening. That, above all else, is what chaps my ass right now. I don't like working in an environment of mistrust, and as mentioned before, I don't like the "rumor mill" style of management. It might be nice to see the supervisors sit down in our classes and do some evaluation for themselves as opposed to relying on hearsay and overly subjective eval forms.

I'd like to see a few fields added to that form. The main field would be located directly under the "complaints" box. The student would list her complaints, and would then have to answer "yes" or "no" to this question: "At least 6 weeks before filling out this form, I spoke with my teacher about the above complaints." If the student's answer is "no," then she would be required, in an adjacent sub-field, to explain why nothing was said to the teacher before the midpoint of the semester.

For those who answer "yes" to the above question, the second sub-field would say: "My teacher's response was...", and the student would have the opportunity to relay what the teacher may or may not have said in response to the face-to-face complaint. In my experience, some students will write complaints that reflect a certain immaturity and inability to see past the end of their nose, but no student has ever written a complaint that was an outright lie. I think the above two fields would be filled out honestly.

I plan to write my supervisors about this situation. I'll be polite, of course, but will emphasize the point about fostering an environment of trust as opposed to suspicion. I'm lucky to have fairly reasonable bosses, so I know this won't turn into a screaming match. As I mentioned to a colleague today: "Imagine if I had tried to send such an email to my old hagwon boss from 1994. We'd have had a fistfight in the staff room."

*Not only that, but students who drop and switch classes in the first week are usually doing so prematurely, based entirely on a very superficial impression of the class they're escaping from. Following their misguided instincts, they think that jumping ship will somehow make them feel better, because that's what it comes down to for so many of them: superficial feeling, not actual substance. For them, the foremost question isn't "Am I learning something?" Instead, it's "What's my anxiety level?"


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As you say, “bring it on,” your students can be the deciders.