16

Are student evaluations of teaching assistants read by faculty who assigns teaching duties to TAs or by the primary instructor of the course for which the TA is assisting?

I recently met the professor whom I was assisting and he said: "...and you got good evaluations last semester...". I was not expecting that.

  • 4
    When I was associate chair for graduate studies (about 20 years ago), I looked at the student evaluations of my department's teaching assistants. Many of the evaluations just got a quick glance to see that the TA was doing OK, but if there seemed to be a problem then I'd look at students' comments more closely. – Andreas Blass Mar 26 at 22:44
  • 1
    Less than you might think, because many people are too lazy to be bothered. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Mar 27 at 20:21
20

You should expect that your teaching evaluations will be available to any faculty members in the department. The lecturer for the class will certainly have access (and this is important for you, if you subsequently look for an academic position; your evaluations will help them to write you a letter of recommendation addressing your teaching). Other faculty members may also see the evaluations. In my department, any professor who wanted to see a grad student's teaching evaluations could get them. Most faculty members are not going to be interested, but whoever makes the teaching assignments may well review your scores. Other people may also look at your scores, for various reasons; for many years I reviewed all the grad students' teaching evaluations in my department, to look for evidence of any systematic problems.

15

I have to disagree with the older answers from Buzz and Brian Borchers.

Access to teaching evaluations is a matter of individual university policy.

At my (flagship public American) university, teaching evaluations are (by default) strictly confidential to the person being evaluated; whether that person is an instructor or a teaching assistant makes no difference. There are only three exceptions to this default, all of which formally require the permission of the person X being evaluated:

  • X can give permission to be considered for a teaching commendation.
  • X can give permission to share their evaluations with their department chair/head.
  • X can agree to a request for a summary report from the department, as part of an application for tenure/promotion or an award.

For all three of these options, only a summary of numerical scores is actually shared; narrative comments are not.

In particular, I have no official access to the teaching evaluations of either the teaching assistants for the classes I teach or my graduate advisees who are funded by TAships. Even the faculty and staff who assign TAships cannot see the previous student evaluations of prospective TAs.

(Of course, in principle, anyone can share their teaching evaluations with anyone else, but in practice, because the campus treats the evaluations confidentially, nobody does.)

I don't think this is good policy, but it is long-established and well-defended policy on my campus.


On the other hand, at my undergraduate institution, teaching evaluations of all faculty were effectively public, including narrative comments. There was a large printed book on the desk at the registrar's office that contained complete evaluations of every class from the previous semester, with numerical scores summarized and narrative comments transcribed (and presumably edited to remove personal information) from the paper evaluation forms. Every semester, the student newspaper would publish a list on the front page of the ten highest-rated and ten lowest-rated classes from the previous semester.

Apropos to this question: Teaching assistants did not get individual student evaluations; they were evaluated only indirectly through their effect on their class.

  • 1
    +1: For another data point, at my (private American) university, the summary of numerical scores is available to anyone at the university (from undergraduates on up), but the individual score sheets and narrative comments are never available to anyone but the instructor. (And for this reason the latter are not allowed to be used in tenure/promotion files, since it's not possible to verify authenticity.) – Mark Meckes Mar 27 at 16:13
  • Very interesting! – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Mar 27 at 20:22
10

Yes, in the US context, it's completely normal for your supervisor to read these evaluations.

1

Here in the UK most GTAs (tutorials leaders) don't get directly evaluated. However, parts of the student evaluation do ask about the tutorials. Students also often complain to members of academic staff ("faculty") directly about the GTAs (and sometimes say good things also, but that is usually harder to elicit).

1

At my alma mater - Technion IIT in Israel/Palestine, student evaluations had two parts: Numeric scores and freeform comments. The numeric scores were publicly visible, i.e. all faculty and students could see your scores. The freeform comments were either private (only you got them) or were perhaps accessible to senior faculty upon request. I don't know for sure because my faculty's access policy was secret (or at least, was never publicized in writing and I didn't ask).

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