Role Reversal

Maybe it's time for a new kind of instructor evaluation of students, writes Rob Weir.
December 23, 2010

I've just had one of those semesters in which one of my classes had just enough rotten eggs to jeopardize the barrel. You probably know the eggs in question, the ones suffering from SBS (Spoiled Brat Syndrome). Love that term. It was given to me by one of my students who got tired of hearing from peer whiners. SBS students are those who occasionally come to class, voice a few complaints about how (they’ve heard) you conduct it, insist that you personally take responsibility for improving their grades, register moral outrage when told that you intend to hold them to the same standards as lesser-deserving students, and then disappear for several more weeks.

I get through this kind of class because I’ve learned not to waste my time on SBS sufferers. (Seriously, there’s little you can do to please them, so don’t bother trying.) The end-of-semester problem is that our campuses practice the same one-person/one-vote democratic practices that muddy our civic lives. Everyone gets to fill out a class evaluation, whether they're Einstein or the campus idiot, a perfect attendee or a ghost, a hard worker or an SB. Alas, it only takes a few SBs to pull down your class evaluation scores. I’ve written before about what you should and should not take away from student evaluations. My relaxed views on these notwithstanding, this semester’s brush with SBS students aroused my sense of justice. It's just not fair that students get to evaluate us, but we don’t get to say our piece about them. In theory, of course, our grades are their evaluations, but as many on this site have noted, professors who break the institutional curve do so at their own peril. Let’s just say that C has become the new F and B is now the new C. I say it’s time to give profs parallel rights and allow them to evaluate their students. Distribute machine-scored bubble sheets and make the results on each student available campus wide. Heck, let’s even set up a Rate My Students website.

Based on my university's instructor evaluation form, here is a working draft of what one might look like. (Disclaimer: This test comes to you as a seasonal dose of seasonal humor and should not be construed as an exercise in cynicism. I truly love almost all of my students, even a few of the SBSers.)

1. The student was well-prepared for class.
a. Almost always.
b. Frequently.
c. Sometimes.
d. Rarely.
e. Have I ever seen this person?

2. The student actually reads directions before asking what they are.
a. Almost always.
b. Frequently.
c. Sometimes.
d. Only if the directions appear in red, bold, and 48-point font.
e. A new immaculate conception is more likely.

3. The student demonstrated that s/he actually opened assigned books.
a. Almost always.
b. Frequently.
c. No, but student cruised some cool websites.
d. Student didn’t buy the books, but did complain about their cost and the fact that I didn’t use them enough in class
e. Read! What kind of tyrant would impose such an indignity?

4. The student used class time well.
a. Almost always.
b. Frequently.
c. Does catching up on sleep count?
d. Perhaps, but it was at some out-of-class pursuit.
e. Remind me again who this person is.

5. The student demonstrated a keen interest to learn.
a. Almost always.
b. Frequently.
c. Maybe once, but I could be wrong.
e. Who?

6. The student looked at the syllabus at any point other than day one.
a. Student always consulted it.
b. Frequently.
c. Not sure s/he is familiar with the term.
d. Left it on the desk upon leaving the first class.
e. Thinks it’s my job to call each night and remind him/her of assignments.

7. Student made valuable contributions to the class.
a. Almost always.
b. Frequently.
c. S/he once gave a cold to several classmates.
d. Class exchanges were acrimonious though there’s no way s/he could spell that word.
e. Class contribution analogous to Cruella Deville's to animal rights.

8. Percentage of time student spent working vs. complaining about working.
a. Never complained.
b. Seldom complained.
c. About 50/50.
d. You’d have thought I was asking for both kidneys.
e. Never stopped complaining, though one must admire student's consistency and persistence.

9. Percentage of classes student actually attended.
a. 100 percent or nearly so.
b. 75-90 percent.
c. At least 50 percent.
d. Peer nickname was “Caspar.”
e. Do I really have a student by this name? Are you sure?

10. Student begins working on major assignments at least 12 hours in advance.
a. Almost always.
b. Frequently.
c. It could have happened once, but I kind of doubt it.
d. Did you say “in advance?” Hah, hah! That’s a good one.
e. Are you under the misapprehension that this student actually handed in work?

11. Student has actually looked at things marked on returned papers other than the grade.
a. Almost always.
b. Frequently.
c. Yes, s/he once remarked on the lovely shade of red splashed across the page.
d. Stop! You’re killing me with these jokes.
e. See 10e.

12. Student accepts responsibility for mistakes.
a. Almost always.
b. Frequently.
c. S/he once apologized for spilling soda on my office carpet.
d. Insists s/he is always misinterpreted.
e. Student’s lawyer will not allow me to answer this question.

13. How much did this student learn in your course?
a. Quite a lot.
b. An average amount.
c. A new idea may have sneaked in when student’s guard was down.
d. Wouldn’t the student actually have to be in class for this to happen?
e. A brain surgeon with a power drill couldn’t get into this student’s head.

14. Estimated hours per week this student devoted to your course.
a. More than 10.
b. 5 to 10.
c. A good 15 minutes. Maybe.
d. 2-3 nanoseconds.
e. Do zombies study?

15. What is your overall assessment of this student?
a. S/he is a stellar student, a credit to her/his family, and has a promising future.
b. Student has room for improvement, but has the potential to do well.
c. Student’s ability to moan and complain certainly ranks in the top 25 percent.
d. My God! If this student is ever again in one of my classes please, please just shoot me.
e. I had a better chance of marrying into the British royal family than seeing this student at any point during the semester.

16. What testing would you recommend to this student’s adviser that would help that adviser plan the student’s future?
a. LSAT.
b. GRE.
c. Test for possible learning disabilities.
d. Myers-Briggs personality test.
e. An EEG.


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