Tuesday, October 08, 2013


In poring over the teacher evaluations written by my students, I normally ask myself whether more than one or two students have written the same complaint. My feeling is this: if, in a class of twenty kids, only one or two complain about some aspect of the class, I can safely ignore that complaint, because eighteen to nineteen kids are probably not having problems with that same aspect of the class. With a 90%-95% satisfaction rate, there's really no need to change anything: I won't submit to the tyranny of the minority. If, however, four to six kids independently write the same complaint, then I think it's best to assume the problem is real, is significant, and needs to be dealt with.

It's something of an "Is it you, or is it me?" issue—a question of ontological status. If one or two students complain a certain way, I assume the problem is more subjective, more in their heads than about my teaching. If, however, four to six students name the same problem, I'm more inclined to believe the problem has an objective existence and that, while other students might not have written that same complaint, they would have done so had they been prompted to.

By that reckoning, for three out of six of my classes, I really have nothing to worry about. I assume that, at the end of the semester, the students will be given more formal eval forms to fill out—ones that allow them to rate the teacher with numbers. When that happens, I may have some percentages to show you, as I did when I was working at Sookmyung.*

*You may recall that my Sookmyung evaluation numbers, with only one exception, hovered in the 95% to 99% range. That one exception was due less to my teaching than to the fact that we were trying an experiment that semester: we were seeing how well the intensive students could handle straight academic lecture in English, as if our courses were actual, Western-style college courses. The result was disastrous for all of us; I was down to 90% (going below 95% felt like dishonor to this Klingon); other teachers experienced similar drops. It had been an attempt at "content-based instruction" (CBI), but I don't think our director had clearly understood the concept of true CBI, which isn't at all about generating a torrent of incomprehensible information for bewildered students.


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