I have been really challenged lately trying to put into words a teaching philosophy I have been struggling to promote. A good friend of mine helped me put this philosophy into words, which has helped me put them to paper.
Teacher evaluations are mostly bullshit. I say that because the evaluations I have seen do not ask the correct questions. Nor does the audience have the prerequisite experience to properly address the quality of a course. Detecting a defective toaster is really easy. Detecting a defective course might be impossible. And if a course is defective, implementing a change could mean replacing the person teaching the course.
Courses and faculty teaching courses can contain insidious defects. The faculty is popular, good-natured, a good person, and the students are happy with the grades received. But, was the course useful, helpful, was the student better or improved upon exiting the course? If the students overall value is not appreciably improved, the course could be defective.
I tell my students to stop being simply students.
That goes against common convention, I think. I’ve not been much for convention.
“You are a person, with experience, knowledge, and beliefs. I am amazed semester after semester when students cross the threshold of the classroom door and all of that a priori knowledge gets left in the halfway. Being open-minded is great for learning, but does not mean a student has to go into a class empty-minded. Every experience, every class, every environment is a learning experience IF you are tuned-in. The knowledge presented in class may be new, but you have experience from your own life that you need to tap to learn better.”
I say this to students in my classes, online and traditional, “Read the syllabus. Know your instructor’s name. Do not write like you are in the 4th grade. Ask questions. Treat your education as a second, or third job. Do this for ALL of your classes. You are the owner of your education. Not me. Not the person who stands up here and blah-blah-blahs for 50-75-180 minutes. We are really glorified accountants, referee. We present the material, then assess how well you process information, and calculate a grade.”
To that end, the student must assume more responsibility for all aspects of their education. Responsibility means staying awake, attentive, taking notes, reading the assigned material, thinking about the material, and showing up for class.
Furthermore, learning is not simply about the material. How often do you, as a student, think about the teaching method, the delivery style, of the instructor? Do you, as a student, think about how you would plan the course content and material? What would you do differently? What would you change, add, remove? How would you challenge the students in the class in new or different ways?
As you sit in your chair, thinking about how a class is a waste of time, the time is truly wasted if that is the sum total of your thoughts. Asking yourself these questions will prepare you later when you have to perform a course evaluation.
A course evaluation is a waste of time if the only input you have is that you think the course is a “waste of time,” “the instructor is boring,” “I hate this class.” Those are worthless evaluations.
Instead, think about my comments above. Take ownership of your time and effort. Be preemptive about your education. Do not waste time if you have problems or concerns. Be respectful. The reality is that you do not know the subject, the instructor does. However, you may have experience in Human Resources, managing a team or a shift or a platoon. That experience, passed along in a private meeting outside the classroom to the instructor might be helpful to the instructor.
If his or her ego can take a little healthy criticism.