December 6th, 2010
Teacher Evaluations Easily Accessible and Incredibly Helpful
By Tara Plath
The bi-annual process of registering for classes can be a stressful one; coordinating class times, reading class descriptions, fulfilling pre-requisites and requirements, and accepting the fact that entering the class number on the Oracle’s search will almost never work are just some aspects of the registration process that drive students crazy. After all of that, it’s always depressing to hear students complaining about the one or two classes that threaten to ruin their semester (and happiness!).
SAIC has an incredible faculty. I am continually amazed by how knowledgeable, interesting, and helpful almost all of my teachers have been. But there have been exceptions. I will not claim them to be “bad” teachers. Every teacher has his or her own style and method, some of which are more compatible to my style of learning than others. And if SAIC employs them, there is obviously great merit to what they have to teach. Other reasons for not enjoying a class to its fullest have been unexpected costs or being unpleasantly surprised by the workload. With an add-drop process that doesn’t leave much room for changes — and how much can you guess about a class from its first or second day? — it seems these surprises are inevitable and a part of the student experience. I’m here to tell you: it doesn’t have to be.
Teacher evaluations are the best-kept secret at this school (with the exception of that sleeping lounge that used to be above Sonny’s …). Many students have never heard of teacher evaluations. We fill them out at the end of every semester. Often, students speed through them, eager to get out of class early and with no interest in telling an anonymous reader about their class experience. The forms are collected and filed away in some mysterious and magical location…. Not true! They are, in fact, kept at the Academic Advising office, organized in manila folders by teacher and by class, and accessible to every student at SAIC. Every semester, a few weeks after the class list for next term is printed, I put away an hour of my time to read teacher evaluations. While many students look up one teacher they may not be sure about, I take no risks. On my last visit I requested the folders of seven teachers, even asking that I be provided with the specific class evaluations I’m interested in taking if possible.
While we know that students do not always take the time to thoroughly describe the class, there’s almost always a pattern in the group of evaluations that can give a very clear picture of what the class will be like with very few words. If you read “too much work” written by 15 different people, there’s very little room for doubt about how demanding that class may be. Perhaps half of them read, “too much work,” while the other half read something like, “very demanding but rewarding if you do the work.” You can take the research one step further by looking at the students’ evaluations of themselves; maybe the “too much work” students are underclassmen or even admit to not being interested in the class topic while the other half describe themselves as active participants. The evaluations must be read with a grain of salt. Some students just straight up don’t like certain classes, but with a reasonable number of evaluations, it’s easy to identify the outliers and get a sense of general sentiments. Sometimes the evaluations don’t say much more than “This teacher is awesome,” and even that is helpful if you see it five times for one class (which I often do).
Teacher evaluations are a great way to measure yourself as a student and choose classes best fitted for you. Looking to fulfill that dreaded science requirement? It doesn’t hurt to research what classes don’t assign a lot of homework, if any. Not sure if you can afford the books for that art history class? The evaluations will tell you if you have to buy the book, or can get by without it. Even seemingly trivial facts can help you make decisions: the classroom had no windows, the teacher has too much going on in their own practice to pay the fullest attention to their students, the class is overly technical or overly conceptual.
Imagine how different classes would be if everyone there knew exactly what to expect on that first day. While there is a bit of fun in the element of surprise when you first arrive to a class you know very little about, the cost of tuition makes that sense of mystery a little less exciting. Nobody wants to be in a position where withdrawing from a class you’ve already paid for halfway through the semester seems like the only choice. This is a way to avoid that sinking feeling you might get five weeks into the semester, when you know that you never would have taken the class if only you had known … And there’s still nine weeks left til it’s over.
This semester, I read teacher evaluations for every class I’m in with the exception of one. I made a last minute change to my schedule, switching into a class with a teacher I knew nothing about. It is the only class I wish I hadn’t taken. So if you don’t like surprises, you’re looking to get the most out of your tuition money, or that class in the room with no windows is threatening your health, follow these easy steps to ensure a more stable semester:
Go to the Academic Advising office, Suite 1204 in the Sullivan Building. Tell one of the friendly receptionists that you would like to read some teacher evaluations. They will hand you a clipboard, which you then fill out with your name, student ID number, email, and the teachers you would like to evaluate. Don’t be shy; that box is small but feel free to fill a few of them with every teacher you’re interested in. Bring a notebook to take some notes and get comfortable on that waiting room chair. It’s still not too late for next semester. While everyone has already enrolled, classes can be changed and there will be openings between now and the end of January. Take responsibility in your education and take the classes that you’re confident that you will enjoy.