Teachers Need Honest Feedback
With less than a week left before school starts, every student is wondering the same thing: how good will my teachers be? This is the time of year when many anxious students and parents flock to www.ratemyteachers.com, a website where students can post and read anonymous feedback on teachers. It is a place where teachers are praised for their kindness, dedication and teaching methods, or criticized for their inaccessibility and skewed grading system.
A caring teacher can go a long way. It can mean the difference between engagement and apathy, or graduating and dropping out. I still have fond memories of some of my own teachers: one would stay behind after school until every student understood a particular concept; another taught not just what was in the textbook, but also values like integrity and hard work. However, there were also those who were unbearably boring or unfair in their evaluations.
Teachers rarely, if ever, receive feedback on their performance. Meetings with school administrators might take place if serious issues arise, but rarely do they happen because of ineffective teaching styles or unfair grading practices. Some teachers have been using the same teaching methods for decades; others do nothing but read straight from the textbook.
It is time for honest feedback that really counts.
Since 2008, the University of Toronto has mandated that all students complete an evaluation upon completion of a course. Many other universities have similar systems. Harvard University, for example, asks students to rate their overall course, course materials, assignments, workload and difficulty. It also asks students to evaluate their professors based on their teaching abilities, accessibility outside of class, enthusiasm and alacrity in grading assignments. The evaluation even compares the course to others within the same department based on the mentioned benchmarks. Students can also submit comments. The process is completely anonymous and provides candid assessment every semester. Everyone wins: students are empowered and school officials have the data they need to make informed adjustments to courses.
Critics of a formalized evaluation process will argue that it is confrontational. But the fact is that students are not there to fire professors –- they are simply there to ensure that classes continue to undergo continuous improvement. It allows the school system to quantitatively measure its effectiveness to determine how to best meet students’ needs.
Almost every candidate during this municipal election is campaigning for transparency and accountability. Let’s bring that same level of openness to our classrooms.