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So I just read my evaluations for this past semester, and they are absolutely horrible. The worst I've ever gotten. I put so much effort into teaching, but almost nobody thinks I did a good job. Do you think this will prevent me from teaching next semester? I have a 9-month renewable instructor position that goes through the Spring but I'm really worried.

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    When you say that they're the worst that you've ever gotten, do you mean that in the sense that they're significantly worse? If so, it'd seem like there may be some sort of factor behind 'em that you'd want to figure out. – Nat Dec 20 '17 at 1:59
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    @Nat Well, I went from a 6 (out of 6) in the Spring to a 2 this Fall. Granted, I did teach the course differently because of the huge number of students... guess I learned not to do that again. – Forever Mozart Dec 20 '17 at 5:42
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    Please specify the country or other context for your question. Are the evaluations part of the university bureaucracy or something you gather of your own volition? To whom are the result revealed? – Tommi Dec 20 '17 at 12:37
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    That you have strong differences between semesters makes a huge difference. It’s a sign that there might be something else going on—perhaps it’s been known as a bad course in the past, and people are going in with preconceptions. – aeismail Dec 20 '17 at 22:35
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The first thing I'd do in your situation is to get as much information as possible from the evaluations, especially from the students' comments. What exactly did they not like? Was it something about you or about the course? There are lots of reasons for bad evaluations. Some reasons are things you should pay attention to and change. Other reasons are beyond your control. Did the student population consist mostly of students who didn't want to take the course but needed it to fulfill some requirement? Did the course meet at 8 a.m. (or earlier)?

If you haven't taught this course before, you might want to get some statistical data on the evaluations other instructors got in the same course. Some courses are just really unpopular and produce lousy evaluations even for the best instructors.

As for renewal of your appointment, that depends on your department's administrators and the numbers of students who need to take your department's courses. The administrators may know that the course you taught always yields lousy evaluations, in which case there should be no problem. Other presumably relevant factors include your general reputation as a teacher (e.g., your past evaluations) and the actual evaluations that you just got. (You said they were "horrible" and "the worst" you've ever gotten --- but might it be that your past evaluations were excellent and these new ones are mediocre, so they're your worst and they look horrible to you but might not be horrible on an absolute scale?) But in general, the only way to find out about your situation is to talk with the relevant administrator(s).

  • It was a required course for freshmen. Many of the comments were along the lines of "worst teacher ever", "can't teach", "hated this class". There are a few constructive things I learned from the comments, such as things I can change along the lines of format/presentation. Honestly I've just about had it. I did the best job I could do under the circumstances, without knowing that so many students were disgruntled. – Forever Mozart Dec 20 '17 at 5:35
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It honestly depends. The biggest issue is if your department needs teachers or not.

If you have reason to argue that the reviews are wrong—that is, if comments are provided—then you should document those as evidence that your reviews were "spiked."

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The only question I see in the post is whether or not a person, given no other details, thinks that a round of bad (by a measure which we don't know) student evaluations will cause a department to not renew your contract.

At my school, all temporary faculty meet with at least the Dept. Chair at the end of every semester to go over student evaluations (I am in math). I have learned in these meetings that many types of "bad" comments from students are not interpreted so seriously by the department. Students can sometimes make extreme claims that are not true, and the department knows this. You say that you put a lot of effort into the course, so presumably you have some course materials to back that up. If a student says, "The instructor never did bla bla," I bet you can provide evidence that you did do bla bla.

If you were respectful of your students, behaved appropriately, met the standards of your department in terms of work you put into the course, and had one of two semesters with great evals, then I would be inclined to say that one semester of bad evals would probably not solely cause your dismissal.

If your contract is not renewed, I recommend asking for a meeting to discuss the reasons for this. You will want to know (for the future) whether it was a result of the evals or not.

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Do you have to write a teacher's evaluation? In there, I would:

  1. Explain that you did things differently because of the large number of students, but that a new format is never without problems on the first run;
  2. Note that sadly most of the evaluations are not constructive;
  3. Clearly point out how you intend to incorporate the constructive comments next year.

You could also suggest to the administrators that they set up a meeting with you and students in which they can voluntarily give you more feedback.

If you have a constructive attitude it seems unlikely to me they'll send you home over one course, especially if you have taught it at the same institution before (which I gather from your question although it is not entirely clear to me). However, this of course also depends very much on how easy it would be to find another instructor.

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