Soothing the sting of cruel student comments

Reading students’ comments on official end-of-term evaluations – or worse – can often be painful and upsetting. So it’s no surprise faculty skim the written section and focus on the quantitative ratings.

Here are some suggestions for soothing the sting from those hurtful student comments:

Analyze the data: Look out for those outliers! Once you exclude the uniquely mean-spirited or outlandish comments, you can analyze the ratio of positive to negative comments to get an overall picture of student impressions. Or categorize remarks by theme to determine specific areas you can improve upon.

Let your critics be your gurus: We often brood over certain negative comments because we suspect they may contain an element of truth. Instead, treat these comments as an opportunity to inform your teaching practice. It is easy to feel personally attacked by cruel student comments, but that doesn’t necessarily mean your critics don’t have a point.

Dwell on the positive ones: Our minds tend to remember negative comments more vividly. To combat this, you should devote at least as much time to students’ positive comments as their negative counterparts. Plus, reading these positive sentiments can help you remember your teaching strengths.

Ultimately, as important as they are, student evaluations offer only a limited perspective on teaching. Thorough evaluation of teaching effectiveness requires reflection on your own practices and on your students’ knowledge upon completion of the course.

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