I will enter the academic job market after having received poor teaching evaluations for my first and only independently taught class. Some of the criticisms were well founded, and I am trying my best to improve the class in the future. The teaching evaluations for the next (and hopefully improved) installment of the class will not be available in time to include them in my job applications.

While I am still inexperienced as a teacher, I don't think the evaluations are entirely fair. My predecessor agrees with me that the class is one of the most challenging classes to teach (it's a mandatory statistics class for terminal masters students without a mathematical background).

How should I deal with these teaching evaluations in my job application? Is there any way to provide context for the hiring committee?

  • 3
    Are you applying mainly for positions which are teaching-focused or research-focused?
    – Bitwise
    Jul 20, 2015 at 23:52
  • 1
    Mainly teaching-focused.
    – ErnChe
    Jul 21, 2015 at 1:29

3 Answers 3


Everyone has a tough time the first several years of teaching. It takes several years for people to find their feet. We can't all be Richard Feynman right out of grad school.

Still, a search committee might note your poor scores. You can compensate in several ways:

  1. By remarking on this in your Statement of Teaching. I would try not to dismiss or shift blame, but tackle it head on. "In my first year of teaching, I received poor scores in Nuclear Physics 101. These mainly centered around X and Y. I have revised my syllabus to handle X and will dedicate more time to discussion around points Y. I have also changed how I handle Z, which should alleviate both problems, etc. etc. I have also decided to be less of a jerk."

  2. By delivering a stellar guest lecture when you're brought on campus for your interviews.

Note that #1 and #2 both involve practices (statement of teaching; guest lecture in a class) that not all universities and colleges follow. Generally the ones that care about teaching require them and the ones that don't don't.

For example, I teach at an R1 where undergraduate teaching is ... deprecated. We mainly care about your research and that's what we evaluate our candidates on.

  • 3
    P.S. Most everyone hates teaching and takes statistics. If this were a course which you should have excelled in (ie, your research area), it might be of more concern.
    – RoboKaren
    Jul 21, 2015 at 1:48
  • 2
    +1 for not dismissing or shifting blame. Take responsibility and explain how your going to do better.
    – Thorst
    Jul 21, 2015 at 7:23
  • 1
    Darn the inability to edit comments. It should be "hates teaching and taking statistics"
    – RoboKaren
    Jul 21, 2015 at 9:10

I would see if you can find someone willing to write you a positive teaching recommendation letter.

In mathematics, applicants are typically expected to provide one or more such letters. Sometimes these read "So-and-so had difficulties in his/her first year, but responded markedly well to feedback and constructive criticism. H/she is now teaching the course a second time and is doing an excellent job: [here the letter writer gives a lot of detail....]"


Depending on where you apply, it may not be required to provide the teaching evaluations. For example, in the past, I have applied for a few jobs in Canada and other countries and it was not required. However, when I was invited for job interview, they asked me to give a 10 minutes course demonstration, so they could evaluate my teaching skills. I was required to do this for at least three different job interviews for professor positions. So I would say to provide the evaluations if they ask for them. Otherwise, you don't need to. If they ask for the evaluations, then you could always explain that it is a difficult course to teach. As a professor, I am aware that some courses are more difficult and I think that most professors should be aware of that and understand that.

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