Rate My Blues

The other day I happened to look at my RateMyProfessor.com page. I have nothing to complain about, the comments are all largely positive. But there was a recent entry that ticked me off probably more than it should have and I am not entirely sure why. Namely, the entry says that I am a decent instructor, but that I “move fast through the class” (I am assuming this means that I cover the material quickly, not that I pace, but I suppose either is possible and wouldn’t be untrue), that I assign a lot of homework and that my tests are long and hard, but that I curve the grades so it works out.

None of this was mean or damning and I would say it’s all correct for that particular class — I do assign a lot of work and the tests are not easy. So why was I ticked off by the review? It’s true, after all.

People tend to be more viscerally affected by the negative than the positive, and the same holds for feedback — I often remember one negative  teaching evaluation in a sea of glowing ones.

But in this case I think I’m mostly disappointed. I tend to kick the students’ butt in that course on purpose: it’s an important course and the material has wide applications for many of their subsequent courses as well as their overall understanding of the discipline. I do assign a lot of homework, so students could practice and get better. The exams are challenging but hardly impossible, and making them do homework frequently and diligently is how I prepare them for doing well on the exams. If taught with proper emphasis, the course ties a lot of important concepts from seemingly disparate subdisciplines together.  I repeatedly emphasize how important the material we cover is for the students’ overall education. And then I see a review where all these aspects went completely over the student’s head, where all the work was a nuisance, just something to plow through en route to a grade, and my cold professorial heart sinks just a little deeper.


  1. If students are good at one thing, it’s complaining. Even if they were all in it for the knowledge (as opposed to the grades and subsequent paycheck), they would still find something to bitch about. Just ignore them and try and focus on the good. I had a class where the prof used to read is some bad reviews every once in a while. It made them more humorous, and the prof said it seemed to help deal with the bad ones.

  2. My favorites, I say sarcastically, are when the student says that the course material was boring as all hell but that I’m a really good lecturer… wtf?

  3. My evaluations have gone up significantly as I have consciously (and, ahem, with some encouragement from the senior folks) dumbed down the content, both in quality and quantity. Now my lectures are simple, slick and explicitly tell students the most important points they are supposed to learn (read: remember). And they are absolutely dumb.

    I feel very unsatisfied with my teaching, though the evaluations say otherwise. Sad part is, being a junior faculty, I don’t see any choice.

  4. University knowledge comes with the “currency” grades. Even though we all wish that our students sit in our lectures just to soak up knowledge, in the end they have to pass a test. And how well they do in a test is often the only measure they have for how much knowledge they gained (even though it might not be a good measure). It is what they will be measured against when applying for jobs. They can’t know if the knowledge they gained is worth anything until they have to apply it to some real-world, non-textbook problems. Until then the only scale they have are grades – and I think it is a good sign if they realize early on that this currency is often not only gained by knowledge but that there are a few soft-factors involved as well – because that holds for the real-world, non-textbook situation outside university as well.

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