Faculty Focus


Faculty Evaluations: Those Hurtful Student Comments

At most colleges today, students are given the opportunity to evaluate instructors at the end of each class. Along with standardized items, students are invited to offer open-ended narrative comments on the course and instructor. Sometimes the comments are nice; sometimes negative but constructive; sometimes negative and destructive.

Some students will go out of their way to make you look bad. If there are relatively few such comments, the professional consequences aren’t all that bad unless a draconian administrator uses them to justify sanctions against you. The personal consequences often are more serious. You wonder where you went wrong. You dream of retirement.

But the pedagogical consequences are dramatic. Such comments take aim at the very soul of teaching. They haunt you during the teaching day—make you hesitate to take risks in your interactions with students. You pull back from challenging the students in the way they need to be challenged if they are to learn how to think analytically and critically.

They make us worse teachers by intimidation. The effects are insidious and often beyond our conscious awareness. We drop paper assignments and essay sections on exams—multiple-choice exams are so much easier to grade, and then there’s that all too convenient test bank from the textbook company. “Education” goes on because texts are read and taught, answers selected, and grades assigned. But real learning—the kind that involves interaction with a tough-minded opponent or starts with a sheet of blank paper and requires the student to write—is bypassed. The hurtful comments did their share to make it so.

I just thought someone had to say that.

Glenn Hartz is a professor at The Ohio State University Mansfield.

Reprinted from Hurtful Student Comments, The Teaching Professor, January 2008.