I once had a student who never made deadlines and was frequently absent from class. She always had an excuse (frequently one that involved some kind of personal problem). I kept reiterating to her that despite all these problems, she still needed to make class and deadlines or accept the consequences (a loss of points and access to information). At one point she finally erupted in anger and said, “ I’d expected more of you as a professor because you’re a mother.” I’ve given great thought to my role as a mother and how it may influence my teaching. I’ve blogged before about whether I’m less patient now that I am a mother or whether I can relate to my students better because of my own personal experiences with my children and empathy. However, I’d never thought about it from the reverse perspective: that the students would have different levels of expectation of sympathy from me because of my role as a mother.
A new study on gender bias in teaching evaluations, though, explains this phenomenon. Apparently, students perceive men and women differently, with different expectations for each. In regards to evaluations for female teachers“…emotional (rather than intellectual) terms are used more often in women’s evaluations than men’s. Whether mean, kind, caring or rude, students are more likely to comment on these qualities when women are the ones doing the teaching. When women professors receive praise for being ‘caring,’ ‘compassionate,’ ‘nice,’ and ‘understanding,’ this is also a not-so-subtle way of telling them that they should exhibit these qualities.”
This is just one finding in a very interesting study. You can look at this interactive chart that explores the gender biases in student evaluations across a variety of areas. Not surprisingly, men are more likely to be thought of as geniuses and women as “mean” or “bossy”. The study looks at the terms and language in www.RateMyProfessor.com. Personally, the last time I looked at this ratings website was years ago when students called me a “pintsized powerhouse”. I was struck by the way the students chose the contrast of these terms and the way my height was even noticed as part of my “evaluation”. Now, I’ve discovered that commenting on height and other bodily characteristics is not uncommon. While faculty are taught and expected to focus only on the work of students, the students are free to focus on whatever aspect of the faculty they would like when filling out these evaluations. I don’t think this comes as any big surprise but considering these latest gender revelations in relation to evaluations and the tendency for colleges to move more towards the quantification of these evaluations, maybe we better give more thought to how we weight and assess them.
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