I got my student evaluation forms the other day.
They were disappointing for the following reasons.
1. My students hated many of my pedagogical choices, and things I did with intention, to benefit them, even though they created more work for me.
2. The perception of my class (but weirdly not me) was persistently negative. The students fill out the evals at midterm, but a number of the students came to me personally, at the end of the term, to tell me how useful my class had turned out to be, even though they hated it at the beginning.
3. My students persistently believed that they “got nothing” out of my class, but most of them, with one or two exceptions, improved noticeably as writers and thinkers by the end of the class.
I have been feeling alternately amused and depressed by this stuff for the past few days.
Most of the commentary amounted to “too much reading” which they always say, and “too much writing” which they also always say, and “She doesn’t grade on a rubric,” which isn’t true. There were like seven rubrics in the syllabus. But apparently, my syllabus is a magical disappearing syllabus because nobody can ever find it, even though I hand out paper ones and upload it to Blackboard, to which all students have access.
And I would be trying really hard not to be so disappointed, but the student evaluations are the only form of supervision I have at this particular school.
In what universe is that OK?
In my experience, adjuncts are basically ignored. The linked article from The Chronicle of Higher Ed purports that we want respect.
I’m glad the article defines respect as opportunities for professional development and teaching awards (among other things), because I think of respect as something less easily defined and quantifiable; but for me, a reasonable amount of money and just a bit of mentorship would suffice. Even though it makes me nervous as all hell to be observed, I always learn tons from it.
Observation helps me feel connected to the school and students, and it makes me feel like there’s someone I can talk to about it if my evaluations are shitty and if I think I can explain part of why, and show how even if they were miserable in the beginning, they actually DID learn a lot, see? I have papers to prove it! Isn’t learning important?
But I’m not sure it really is. At least, not to the institution.
Money and head count are important to the institution. Retention is important, so we can’t alienate these consumers with shit like homework! (Read the linked article about why college students aren’t customers for more info + to learn about some fun GOP legislation proposed in Iowa to turn a career as a professor into performance art).
Is there a universe in which that is OK?
Apparently this one.
Learning is the most important thing. It’s the only important thing. And as long as my students learn stuff, I have done my job. Whether or not they liked it. And whether or not any administrator would believe I was good at it based on the opinions of 18- and 19-year-olds.
I was not always awesome. I did not always make the best teaching choices. But I made all the choices I made with thought and care and concern for my students’ minds. I definitely made some mistakes. I corrected some of my mistakes during the term, and I will do better next time, if there is a next time.
But I’m not sure my students noticed my mistakes. They were too invested in hating that I asked them to use their brain meats.
But that’s not okay. They should already have a sense of how to do the kind of work I asked of them. That they do not is not their fault.
This is part of the problem. Somehow, a lot of the loudest voices in America have become anti-intellectual.
My own family of origin, whom I love, has openly wondered about my soundness of mind, that I should work so hard on my education. They’ve called me egg head with affection and confusion. I almost didn’t go to college because I was infected by anti-intellectual rhetoric.
And the people who have had the biggest intellectual impact on my life, and the people with the power to help the larger cultural problem of anti-intellectualism–teachers–can barely pay their bills, many of us work in awful conditions for almost no money. If you worked part time at McDonalds, you would make more than most adjuncts, and work fewer hours.
Public school teachers aren’t currently allowed to teach. They are forced to administer fake standardized tests, on peril of their jobs, or at least their annual cost-of-living increase in salary, they are derailed from giving the kinds of lessons that enrich lives and create thinkers in order to make sure students are doing well on standardized tests.
Then, when students make it to college, they are ill-equipped. But most of their teachers aren’t even paid enough to really care, or to work hard to make a difference.
Our future as a country is at stake here.
This system is not sustainable. We are already paying with our lives.
So what can we do?
The only things I have been able to come up with are to think and read more. To pay better attention. To only accept work that pays well. To vote in primary and local elections. To read and share articles like the ones linked here on social media. To ask difficult questions. To speak openly and publicly about adjunct conditions. To reject standardized testing wherever and whenever possible (I opt my kid out, which is allowed in PA. Use my contact me form if you want to know how).
Do you have ideas?