26 October 2009

Evaluation: Moving Forward


My workday started and ended with evaluations. First I was evaluated by someone who was probably born about the time I started my undergraduate education and has a higher rank than mine. And, at the end of the day, I evaluated someone I'd never before met.

Next week, I'll find out the results of the evaluation that was done on me. No matter how often I'm evaluated or how good an instructor I become, I think I'll always worry about the evaluations. Everyone tells me not to. But they didn't know me when a vindictive (over what, I'll never know) prof at another school wrote, by far, the worst evaluation I've ever had. The thing about being an English prof is that there are no statistics you can invoke to support your contention that your evaluator was biased. And, if you say that the evaluator had it in for you, the powers-that-be tag you with all sorts of labels, none of them flattering.

Whatever comes of it, I feel good about the class. They are a very good bunch of students, and I very much enjoy working with them--not only because they make me look good! And I can honestly say that I'm doing the best I can by them.

As for the evaluator: I hope I didn't seem resentful of her. She did what you're "supposed" to do in the academic world: Go to school from the time you're four until, oh, about thirty. And she got a PhD with a specialty that the college and department were looking for at the time they hired her. Whether she did those things by design or not, they worked. Plus, she's smart and a seemingly decent person.

In other words, her path--at least professionally--bears almost no resemblance to mine. Probably the only point of intersection between our trajectories is one of the schools each of us attended: She earned her PhD where I completed my B.A. But while she went "straight through" school, I spent more than a decade doing other things between the time I finished my bachelor's and started my master's. And I left the academic world for three years when I was with Tammy.

During the class, I didn't think of the evaluation as a "first." Of course, I had one good reason not to: I've been evaluated a number of times before. But I felt that I had an energy, or at least a level of energy, to which I am only beginning to acclimate myself. Even after the evaluator left--an hour into the two-hour class session, as is standard--and even after the class ended and the students left, I felt as if I could have continued forever.

The students knew I was there for them. And I knew that I was doing what I did for myself. It became very personal; what we did in that class had everything to do with the life I've led--at least, some aspects of it, anyway--and with them. Why else did they respond, not only as intelligently, but as passionately, as they did?

Sometimes I think I'm not an intellectual because....Well, actually, I never think of myself as an intellectual. Why? Well, the only way I've ever been able to learn anything is to take it personally. I am not someone who can learn "objectively" or dispassionately. That's certainly a reason why I was drawn toward literature, writing, history and language rather than to, say, math or chemistry.

Just as I can only learn something by taking it personally, that is also the only way I can teach it. And I can only reach students through that same sense.

To tell you the truth, I don't want it any other way. It's moving me forward now.

2 comments:

EdMcGon said...

You probably already saw this story, but it's certainly appropriate to this discussion:
http://www.lewrockwell.com/rockwell/econ-and-moral-courage129.html

To me, I've always found evaluations to be more of a political tool than anything useful, regardless of whether I was giving them or getting them. I have usually known what my boss thought of me, and I tried to let my employees know what I thought of them. Any evaluation was just extra (and unnecessary) work.

Justine Nicholas Valinotti said...

That was definitely one of Lew's better articles. And that's saying quite a bit.

You're right about evaluations, Ed. I have just finished writing the one I have to do of a part-time faculty member. His class was good but could have been better, and I tried to explain how. I hope it's useful to him and that if anyone else actually reads it, he or she sees it for what it is, and is not.