I just got back another round of student evaluations of my teaching. To imagine the feeling I get when opening a fresh packet of evaluations, mix together the dread induced by the phrase “[your boss] needs to speak with you,” and the anxiety-ridden adrenaline rush of Ralphie racing to translate Orphan Annie’s super-secret message with his decoder ring. I’ve done well in all my ratings, but that doesn’t mitigate the panic preceding each.
Most academics share my sense of dread about student evaluations. And yet, I do find them incredibly useful. Not so much the up-or-down vote at the end of the class—by then it’s too late to make corrections anyhow. The feedback I rely on (and proactively solicit) is early, open-ended feedback about what students like and don’t like, whether they feel like I’ve made a case for why they should care about the course material, if I’m going too fast or too slow, which topics they prefer more emphasis on, why they do or don’t feel comfortable speaking out in class, and so on. Unlike the anonymous, often cruel or fatuous rants on sites like RateMyProfessors.com, this feedback is usually (1) very reassuring in that students express general satisfaction with the way things are going (whereas I tend to assume the worst), and (2) very helpful by pointing out specific things that can improve and key insights into the student perspective that I never would have gained otherwise.
Ok, here’s where this post wanders off into crazy-hypothetical-land. Should teachers in the church be evaluated by students? I’m not talking about using evaluations the way they are often used on college campuses—going into a personnel file to be reviewed by superiors for hiring/firing decisions. Callings being inspired and all, they should hardly be subject to an American Idol-style popularity vote. I’m only talking about, for example, a Gospel Doctrine teacher soliciting written feedback from class members for their own use.
The church already has programs in place explicitly for improving gospel instruction: primary has inservice days, as a young women presidency member I was to observe and ensure the quality of the Sunday teacher’s lessons, and stake auxiliaries’ presidencies hold periodic instructor trainings. All the church’s manuals have meta content about teaching methods in the introduction, and there is an entire manual dedicated to teaching methods, Teaching: No Greater Call. Could student evaluations fit into these programs? Could you envision a Young Women President distributing an evaluation form to the girls, then meeting with the instructors to discuss the results at an inservice day?
Undermining the authority of the teacher, and potential negative side-effects of encouraging class members to bring negative thoughts to the forefront of their minds, strike me as a concerns worthy of consideration. But such is the nature of customer feedback in any setting, from retail to universities. The prevalence of feedback mechanisms in these settings suggests that the benefits usually outweigh these risks.
If you are/were a teacher, would you do it and how would you go about it? (or have you already?) As a class member, how would you feel about being asked to provide feedback? Could you be candid about such things in a church setting? What age ranges of students do you think this would be appropriate for? What informal methods do you currently use for self-assessment and soliciting feedback? (typically I pester my husband on the drive home, but he’s a rather biased source) I’d be especially curious to hear how those who have endured student evaluations for their day job feel about it; and for all you BYU grads–was there a different dynamic in evaluating professors in the Religion Dept vs other departments?