Saturday, November 24, 2007

You Can't Win 'Em All

As faithful readers are aware, I am in my pre-tenure year. This means that I am busy assembling documentation to prove to my medical school that they cannot possibly live without me, that I am likely on my way to winning multiple Nobel Prizes (even if they may be Ig Nobels) and that the University should not hesitate to give me a permanent, lifetime place on pay roll.

Part of all of the documentation is teaching evaluations -- both peer reviews and student reviews. Student reviews are not new to me; I have requested them for every class that I have taught during my time here. What is relatively new is my reaction(s) to students' teaching evaluations.

In my earlier teaching days, negative comments used to devastate me. I would manage to overlook all of the positive comments and focus only on the negative. This, obviously, is not sustainable if one wishes to remain within the general population rather than on the psychiatric ward of the local hospital. So I have learned to look at the big picture and to use that to determine whether I am teaching effectively or not.

Taking the good with the bad and looking at the big picture, student evaluations have been a valuable resource for learning what I am doing "right" and for learning how to improve my teaching. There have certainly been comments that I have ignored over the years, but most of the students' suggestions for improvement have caused me to pause and consider the value of the comments and how I can make use of the comments to improve the teaching and learning process.

As such, my student evaluations have improved over the years and I am told by the evaluations unit that I now consistently score at the top of all student evaluations that they process for faculty within the medical school. I am good at the teaching aspects of my job and students appreciate me. It took me many years to get to the point of being able to type/say such a statement and really believe it. It's a happy place to be.

Yet, no matter how I try, I simply can't win them all. Here's proof from a lecture evaluation that I received this past week. In the "comment on the strengths of the lecture" section, I can extract student comments such as these:
  • a very passionate and clear communicator
  • a great prof ... very approachable
  • her passion for and understanding of <subject x> is clear
  • the lectures are clear, limits confusion and gives students confidence in her
  • she is an excellent lecturer
  • extremely approachable with a great sense of humour
  • genuinely enthusiastic about the material
  • she makes it easy to learn
  • very enthusiastic and her interest in the subject matter was very clear
  • enthusiastic and clear
  • very skilled and interesting speaker
  • relaxing tone of voice
  • clear and articulate speaker
  • efficient and engaging speaker
  • in my opinion, one of the best lecturers I've had so far in medicine
  • she has passion about her students' learning
You get the idea.

In the "suggest how the lecture may be improved" section, one student wrote:
  • I found the lecture dry and lacking in enthusiasm. Not a good presenter.

As I said: you simply cannot win them all. So my advice to more junior faculty is: take a deep breath and remember to look at the big picture. Otherwise you'll simply drive yourself batty.

1 comment:

medstudentitis said...

I don't know how you do evals, but we do them at the end of the course (usually 4 weeks) and go back and try to think about each lecturer we had. It's inevitable that someone gets confused and gives someone a wrong evaluation. Maybe this happened to you! You seem to be quite highly regarded!