Negative Effect of Student Feedback(These items are from a listserv about teaching.)
I have come across a number of cases over the past few years, where I believe that very negative student feedback -- written comments on summative evaluation forms -- has had a devastating effect on teachers. These are most often teachers who receive this negative feedback early on in their careers and who have no one to discuss it with. The result is that they turn off. Many stop caring about teaching, or write off their students. I am not talking about overly-sensitive teachers. I mean poor teachers, or teachers who perform poorly in specific situations or at particular times in their life (such as going through a divorce, for example). I have read some teachers' poor evaluations for periods of more than five years, and thought to myself that if I had received even the first set of evaluations I don't know how I could have carried on. Although poor evaluations may be justified, it has been my experience that the way some students phrase their criticism is incredibly hostile, mean-spirited. I also believe that sometimes bias against women and minorities is a factor. Obviously such situations are indicative of a number of problems -- esp. the fact that students can (understandably) become very angry if they believe that their evaluations of teachers are not taken seriously. The worst of this is when teachers who most need help do not get it when they need it, and subsequently refuse to pay attention to feedback from students because it is too hurtful. This is, obviously, not what students intended.
Fortunately, I think a third party, i.e. instructional/faculty developer, can make a big difference in some of these cases. Some of these teachers need an entirely different model of teaching, and a visit from a colleague, along with suggestions for changes, can help make this happen. Another thing I have done is visit a class, tell students the instructor knows he/she has problems and really needs constructive criticism. I then ask the students to write down 1 - 3 things that are good about the course/teacher, and that's all. This helps the instructor re-establish a positive relationship with students.
Also, I support the idea that new teachers should only be collecting formative feedback, and that they should have easy direct access to instructional development support VERY early in their career.
I guess I have one final point. If a teacher really is poor and does not improve when assistance is provided, he/she should of course be removed from the classroom. I have read evaluations of teachers that are hostile, and when I visited their class, and met with them, I understood why. Yet they may still be teaching 2 years later. What is going on here?
I think these cases are worth paying attention to -- as soon as you become aware of them.
Susan Wilcox, Ph.D.
Instructional Development Centre
Kingston, Ontario, Canada K7L 3N6
613 545-6428 (phone)
613 545-6735 (fax)