Sunday, June 27, 2010

College: where the customer is king

I recently decided not to return to teaching college.  I've taught script analysis to film and TV acting students at one college for a number of years and more recently I taught screenwriting to film and broadcasting students at another.  I loved it.  But the students didn't love me.

I never knew they didn't love me until the end of semester evaluations.  These are the only evaluation of an instructor in the system and they are based on the students' opinion of the instructor.  I never did well.  Generally, my classes were polarized.  A small group found me excellent, a larger group found me unacceptable and the largest group never bothered to fill out the evaluation.

However, the administrators of the colleges I taught at take these evaluations very seriously.  And they make their decisions as to who to bring back to teach, (as a part time instructor, I had no job security or could even dream of tenure), each semester.  It's worse than working as an actor in a TV series, not knowing whether you'll be picked up.  I'd been warned that if I couldn't "relate" to students, the content I provided wasn't going to matter.

While my fate as a college instructor is irrelevant, the value placed on student evaluations needs to be well, re-evaluated by college administrators.  As long as they feel it's the instructor's job to keep the student, and presumably the parent paying the tuition, happy, the instructor is placed in an impossible situation.

How can we evaluate someone who's going to turn around and evaluate us?  If colleges insist on this kind of system, then they have to remove the obligation of the instructor to evaluate the student.  Yet, it doesn't seem to occur to administrators that possibly a disgruntled student may be using the evaluation to get back at the instructor or that perhaps someone other than a student should be included in the jury.

This recent alter-net article explains it very cogently.

My own evaluations were similar, down to the student comments, which almost sound like quotes from mine.  I'm pleased with the course content I designed and I also enjoyed teaching it.  But when faced with an untenable situation, I could no longer reconcile having to evaluate people who could then turn around and evaluate me--effectively deciding whether I would keep my job.

I admire those people who can evaluate college students honestly and fairly and yet keep most of them happy enough to give them a positive evaluation.  But in my experience, the college system had too much evaluation and not enough actual learning to make it worth the effort.

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