Alina Avanesyan
Among the redwoods -- Muir Woods

Student evaluations

– November 21, 2012

At the end of each semester I receive students evaluations. It was a very difficult moment for me when I had just started teaching in the US. Mostly because there is no such thing as students evaluations in my native country. It was one of many new things for me. I felt awful when I first saw “she struggled with explaining concepts”, or “she was quiet and I couldn’t hear her”, or “she graded hard”, or even better “she didn’t answer the questions and couldn’t conduct discussions”…

I know that it is not only me who feels uncomfortable reading a bad review from students. A professor I knew joked that she usually drinks a bottle of wine before sitting down to read her evaluations. Someone else told me that students always complain about professors and he didn’t want to know what they wrote about him. At a conference, I heard that some TAs simply stopped reading evaluations, while others never even opened them.

I understand such feelings. I also have things I am afraid of. I am afraid that students will not understand my accent; I am afraid I’ll have to ask them to repeat the question several times until I get it. Terrible feeling. I am afraid that I indeed will not know the answer and students will infer that I might not know other things as well. However, one of the things I am not afraid of is to open and to read student evaluations. I am even looking forward to them. Here is why.

First, people don’t want to read bad things in the reviews, but they forget that there are also good things there. There is always a question “what do you like in your professor/TA?” in any evaluation; and there are always some good things in the answer. Anyone, I think, would like to read something good about themselves. I know I would.

Second, reading evaluations is part of my job. It just needs to be done. Like grading, for example. It is my responsibility as a TA (and as a future professor) to read student evaluations and to use this information to improve my teaching.

And, finally, I think it is again a question of respect for my students and their time. My students spent time answering the questions in the survey and writing their reviews. I have to appreciate that.