Evaluating Your Teaching
by Lisa Barrett*
For an aspiring academician, one of the most exciting aspects of graduate school is serving as a teaching assistant for undergraduate students. A teaching assistantship may bring along excitement, nervousness, stress, and a giant fear of not being prepared– after all, this may be a grad student’s first “real” teaching experience. For a more experienced faculty member, teaching might similarly be an added stress on top of her many other requirements. On the other hand, professors might be able to perfect lesson plans after several semesters of teaching the same class, or they might seek to integrate new technologies or activities into the classroom with each semester of a class. Both new and experienced teachers alike can benefit from evaluating their teaching efficacy.
Here is a video to get you thinking about what your students think about you:
Sure, you can get great information about what your students think of you on sites like ratemyprofessor.com, but why subject yourself to such critique? There are two very important reasons to get evaluated:
Why get evaluated?
- Become a better teacher- Getting evaluated does not mean you are a bad teacher. In fact, it means quite the opposite! For newer teachers, evaluations are a great way to track your progress, and for more experienced teachers, evaluations ensure that you are keeping your lessons fresh.
- Tenure/promotion (T&P) review- Your student evaluations become a part of your “packet” that will be read when you are up for the tenure or promotion review process at your university.
What can you be evaluated on as a professor? Essentially, anything that will provide information about an instructors’ activities, accomplishments, and effectiveness in teaching**, including any of the following:
- Instructional Delivery (including quality, amount, and level of classroom instruction)
- Course Planning (including development of course materials, course revision, development of new courses)
- Grading and Assessing Student Learning (including appropriate level of assignments, exams, grading standards)
- Course Management (including supervision of GSIs)
- Oversight of Independent Studies, Honors Theses, Prelims, Dissertations
- Support for Student Internships, Experiential Learning, Service Learning
- Department and Curricular Work (including participation in curriculum revision, departmental efforts to focus on teaching)
- Advising and Mentoring
- Professional Development and Innovation Around Teaching
**Note: Several of these items include how you perform out of the classroom (e.g. Are you available for office hours?). Being a good teacher is not just about how well you lecture.
How can you be evaluated?
- Peer- This usually involves another teacher in your department taking notes on your teaching in the classroom.
- Student- Student evaluations of classes are usually required at the end of each semester by each university. Teachers often do not get to write the questions in these surveys.
- Self- This can take many forms, but it involves teachers critically thinking about their effectiveness in teaching.
- Other- Teachers can also look at pre- and post- surveys or student assignments to see how effective they are at teaching material. You can also solicit letters from students to include in your T&P packet or save for future job applications.
The important thing here is to get evaluated from many sources. Think of evaluation as a collaborative analysis of yourself as a teacher. There are many resources for faculty at universities with teaching and learning centers. For example, the University of Wyoming Ellbogen Center for Teaching and Learning offers discussions with your class to gather feedback on your teaching, video analysis of your teaching, and more.
Things to think about
- Class observations usually only offer snapshots of what your teaching is like. Instead of relying on these alone, try to get as many forms of evaluations as you can.
- Collect data! Since you have to do student evaluations, you might as well collect information from these questionnaires and look for trends in what works/doesn’t.
- Take time to consider whether you’re on the right track with your own teaching goals. Consider these important questions:
- What would you like to be evaluated on? Why?
- Does my own assessment of my teaching match that of my students’? If not, why not?
- Is my course attracting the students I expected? If not, what adjustments in course objectives and/or materials should I consider?
- Are students’ expected grades accurate? If not, should I consider revising grading/feedback procedures?
- Are students attending the course regularly? If not, do class sessions duplicate the readings too much? Is evaluation weighted too heavily toward readings?
- Is there someone I’d like to talk to (a colleague, former student, TA, or a CTL associate director) who can help provide some insight into these evaluations?
Responding to feedback
Students like to feel that you care about their feedback, and one way to show you care about their input is by making an obvious effort to address something that came up in evaluations. If you’re unsure what some of their feedback means, ask them for examples. Or, try to target an issue by changing a technique and then getting re-evaluated.
Once you have identified the most important learning outcomes for your course, consider whether the papers, problem sets, projects you assign or the discussions, labs, field trips, collaborative activities give students opportunity to reinforce the course information and practice key skills
During the course, outline your specific objectives for each class session, and understand how they relate to overall course goals. Take 10 minutes after each class to note which topics and methods were effective or ineffective, as well as students’ questions. Keep these notes as a valuable resource for the next time you teach the course. Do not include a lot of reading or activities that might be relevant but not central to your course goals.
Use student feedback to judge whether you should keep or change material the next time you teach the course. This can easily be done at the end of the quarter by providing copies of the syllabus and asking students to rate readings, lecture topics, and projects for a) relevance to the course, b) value, and c) interest.
- Use one minute evaluations at the end of selected class sessions.
- Give a “midterm evaluation” of the course, using the official university form or one you have created.
- Talk with the class about their interim feedback, and explicitly put into practice one of their suggestions.
- Before the final course evaluation, explain to the class the importance you place on their input.
- Supplement end-of-course ratings with other types of evaluations discussed above.
- Discuss/exchange tips with other teachers!
*I have not yet taught an undergraduate class (but am preparing to do so in Fall 2016), so please take these tips with caution.