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This past year I taught two undergraduate freshman-level required religion courses (one in the Fall and one in the Spring) and the teaching evaluations from students were rather average-to-poor. These are the only two courses I have taught so far in my career.

Many academic jobs now request you to send proof of teaching excellence along with your application. Have these two courses ruined my chances of getting a full-time job? I don't want to be dishonest and only present a few positive student comments while ignoring the number of negative ones. At the same time I am committed to improving my teaching skills and want to learn from my mistakes.

What is the best way to present this information in a job application? Or should I just not send my evaluations at all?

One more thing I should mention: the student response rate was very low. In both classes less than half of the students filled out the evaluation at all. I don't know if this is relevant (I've read that students with negative opinions tend to be more motivated to fill out evaluations than positive students).

  • What type of position: research-focused or teaching-focused? What type of school? – Santiago Canez Aug 13 '15 at 18:26
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    When I've been on hiring committees, I don't recall ever seeing people submit statistics about their student evaluations. I don't think that's a proper use of student evaluations. People's ability to teach would normally come through more in their letters of recommendation. Also, if someone had a teaching position and left, and there is no clear explanation for why, that's a big red flag that there might be something wrong with their teaching. – Ben Crowell Aug 13 '15 at 21:28
  • It was a temporary adjuncting position open because one of the full time profs was on sabbatical. Is that something I should mention in the application? – DBTheo Aug 13 '15 at 21:38
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    @Ben Crowell: if I was applying to a liberal arts school (in mathematics), I would be sure to include student evaluations (comments and numbers). Some schools ask for them explicitly. – Oswald Veblen Aug 13 '15 at 22:33
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If you're asked to present information relative to your teaching, you need to do that, especially if teaching will be a significant part of your future job.

Not everyone is a superstar right out of the gate, as far as teaching is concerned, and everyone understands that it may take a while for you to hit your stride. The best way for you to finesse the negative responses is to include your own commentary on the teaching evaluations, showing that you can be reflective about your work. We all bomb out now and then; the question is whether you can look objectively at what the students have said and make some adjustments to your approach in the classroom that might address some of the issues. I want to see someone making improvements based on feedback. I don't want to see a faculty member getting the same kinds of comments, semester after semester, and just going on with the same old methods. Did you seek any kind of mentorship for your teaching?

A low response rate is not a positive thing, unfortunately.

Did you have a supervisor for your teaching? Was that person supportive and aware of your efforts in the classroom? Could that person write a teaching recommendation for you that might be in addition to the other expected letters?

  • Unfortunately I did not have a supervisor for my teaching. I do have someone writing me a recommendation letter who has observed my teaching / presentation skills outside of a classroom setting. – DBTheo Aug 13 '15 at 20:54
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    It would be good if that person could highlight your potential. Good luck -- – ewormuth Aug 13 '15 at 20:57
  • How do you recommend including my own commentary on the evals? In the interview or as part of a cover letter / teaching statement? – DBTheo Aug 13 '15 at 20:59
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    I think a teaching statement would be good, clipped to the evaluations so that it's a packet. You might want to mention teaching in your cover letter, but don't go into detail there. You might also think about the courses you taught -- did anything make them particularly difficult to teach? Were they for freshmen? Required? and so on. Sometimes a particular class will be just plain difficult for anyone to teach -- – ewormuth Aug 13 '15 at 21:06
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    I agree that evaluations for major classes are generally better than those for non-major freshman classes (in which some students may not be aware that they're not in high school anymore). And I do agree that freshmen might need a few more bells and whistles -- if your information was rather dense, using PowerPoint especially for the important main points might have helped them. – ewormuth Aug 13 '15 at 21:29
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Such evaluations are intended for internal use and even if they were full of praise, you wouldn't submit those.

The recommendation letter from the observer of the non-classroom setting is what you should submit. Yes, that is a bit thin for "proving teaching excellence" -- but don't despair. We don't know what sort of "proof" the other candidates will be submitting -- so it's worth a shot!

To improve your teaching, gain confidence, and collect more "proof," you could volunteer as a literacy teacher, English teacher for speakers of other languages, or grade school tutor. You could take a pedagogy ("Education") course. My impression is that a lot of what happens in those courses is that you go and observe a variety of classes and write a journal about your observations, in conjunction with some reading about different approaches and techniques. You could embark on a self-study project doing the observing, journaling and reading, without being enrolled in a class.

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    Another option for gaining teaching experience and ability is to teach part-time at a college or university. Part-time positions are incredibly easy to get at the CC where I teach full-time. – Ben Crowell Aug 13 '15 at 21:25
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    Particularly if the students evaluations are full of praise, you should highlight them in your teaching statement, if you are applying to jobs at schools where teaching is a significant criterion for hiring. – Oswald Veblen Aug 13 '15 at 22:42
  • Sorry, I disagree. They really aren't intended for external use. However, a dean could review them and write a letter based on them, and could even include a few verbatim quotes. – aparente001 Aug 13 '15 at 22:45
  • It varies from place to place. Some schools might want a summary sheet, and so on. I'm not sure what the OP's application requirements were, but if there's no evidence of his teaching quality, that would speak for itself. Having a chair or dean write a letter is fine, but if the majority of comments were negative, and the new teacher was not supervised or observed, what is the letter writer to say? By the way, pedagogy courses can be a lot more involved than you suggest. A self-study project would likely not be the same. – ewormuth Aug 13 '15 at 22:53
  • @ewormuth - May I take it that you would recommend the course as more useful than the self-study project? (I've never done one of those courses.) – aparente001 Aug 13 '15 at 23:00

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