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I am a teacher in an institute and I teach English as a foreign language to students in an 8_week session. At the end of each session, the students are required to give their opinion about the class and the teacher.

One of my students who attended all the classes and I corrected at least 20 writings for her has written something horrible and of course has ruined my rating by saying: "What we learn depends on the teacher. I recommend teacher X, but I absolutely and strongly reject this teacher who does not know anything about teaching (meaning me)." She has also written her name on top of the paper.

She never, ever, complained about my teaching method during the time we had class together and this sudden unfair comparison has gone on my nerve. I have taken a photo of what she has written about me and it is in my mind to email it to her and ask for her explanation.

I have signed no contract with that institute and I have received no teacher training courses. I have teaching experiences somewhere else and that was why they invited me to teach. But their unfair system of evaluation at the end of each session will definitely have effects on my payment and if it continues like this, I will no longer be able to continue teaching there.

I am REALLy thinking so deeply about what I could have done wrong. My last session assessment was 20% higher than an old teacher who is teaching there for 3 years. Another serious problem I have with this issue is the "comparison". I teach Reading and Writing and my colleague teaches Listening and Speaking. Of course, I have never met the other teacher. But, he has read this bad comment about me. Why should I lose my face in front of a colleague, because of an "unfair" judgement?

Is it good to react like this, or I should keep silent about her unfair judgement?

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    I'm surprised the student feedback wasn't anonymous. In any case, don't act rashly. Pretty much every (college) teacher has to accept that there's always going to be at least one person who unequivocally hates them. – zibadawa timmy Dec 15 '15 at 18:08
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    You might find useful some answers here: Anonymous Student Feedback: Moving forward from abusive comments. – Massimo Ortolano Dec 15 '15 at 19:10
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    You should also be aware that student evaluations -- either positive or negative -- are not the be-all and end-all of the quality of your teaching. Other metrics include peer evaluation and self-reflection. Peer evaluation is something I've found particularly useful in my teaching. – Nicholas Dec 16 '15 at 0:40
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    Are you sure she wrote it? Maybe someone else wrote her name at the top? – neuronet Dec 16 '15 at 19:44
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    Student evaluations are very common, and where I've taught it was standard to give the student the option of signing their name (and those comments where made part of the permanent file, I think). Also, I have some alarm bells about a teacher of English having at least 4 misspellings or grammar errors in their original post. – Daniel R. Collins Dec 16 '15 at 19:45

11 Answers 11

53

You said,

this sudden unfair comparison has gone on my nerve

It sounds like this negative feedback has provoked some strong emotion in you, and understandably so.

But asking for an explanation is not likely to be helpful at this point. This isn't a constructive comment that can potentially lead you to improve your teaching - it's just an insult. Students take out all kinds of frustration in their teaching evaluations. If you ask a frustrated student to explain a comment they made (most likely) out of frustration, you are unlikely to gain anything constructive. The most likely outcome is that she'll unload more frustration on you.

The best reaction to this kind of feedback (assuming it's an isolated incident, and the rest of your feedback was reasonable) is to re-read the positive feedback you've received, remind yourself that you're a dedicated teacher who works hard to help your students, and put the non-constructive feedback out of your mind.

If this is an isolated incident, I wouldn't worry about its effect on your ranking within your institution. All instructors will occasionally receive some negative reviews, no matter how good they are at teaching.

  • Brilliant. Re the unconstructive feedback, I think it would make sense for OP, in the first place, to have mentioned to h class about giving constructive feedback. If any of the students wanted to express frustrations, they will make their feedback constructive and then 1 OP's pay will be reduced fairly, if it will be reduced 2 OP has the chance to improve – BCLC Dec 16 '15 at 17:43
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    @BCLC Notice that for older students (say 2nd year on), the willingness to give constructive feedback depends a lot on how much their possibly constructive comments have been taken into account in previous years. So, sometimes, you can get insults from students just because those before you, or the faculty, didn't listen to their constructive comments. – Massimo Ortolano Dec 16 '15 at 21:04
  • @MassimoOrtolano I don't follow. How will they know if their constructive feedback has been taken into account when it's already the end of the sem? – BCLC Dec 16 '15 at 21:25
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    @BCLC Because students talk across years, and sometimes retake classes too. Though maybe not in detail, they have the idea of whether their remarks are generally taken into account or not (at least this is my experience). If they feel that these are being dismissed by the faculty, they can either stop giving feedback or start writing poor feedback. – Massimo Ortolano Dec 16 '15 at 21:40
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    @BCLC Yes, really, at least in my experience. Call it "radio university". It's like, as a freshman, you come to know the good and the bad of most of the faculty, even though you just enrolled. And this happened even in the old internet-less age. Notice also that OP's students are foreigners who might come from countries with different university traditions, and giving feedback might be something new to them (e.g., when I was a student 25 years ago, student's feedback was not officially collected, and, actually, it largely consisted of insults written on the toilets' walls). – Massimo Ortolano Dec 16 '15 at 22:15
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You will always (assuming that you did your job generally well) have the odd student giving you a low rating. Assuming that the rest give you a good feedback, this is an outlier and usually will be seen as such.

If there is no concrete and reasonable criticism in the evaluation, you can always - if it is used against you by the department - emphasise to them that no concrete problem was pointed out; on a concrete criticism, you would be happy to improve certain aspects or else, you would stick with your model because of this and that reason.

I understand "reasonable criticism" to be one that can be amended or else, whose amendment would trade-off against other aspects of the course which would suffer instead - in the latter case it is your call as a teacher where you believe the balance should be or you can consult with the programme tutor.

I recommend to not attempt to engage the student. The student has not given you a chance to fix the problem while there was still time, you do not need to give them the chance to fine-tune their criticism to harm you further. If no concrete (and reasonable) criticism was made against you, it is likely the student just poured their own frustration and anger on you; there's nothing you can do about that. Don't let yourself be infected by it.

That being said, I usually try, early in the course, to engage the students into informal feedback to get a gist of what they need - more speed, less speed, more detail, less detail. At the point when you get the official feedback, it's too late for them to profit from it.

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Is it good to react like this, or I should keep silent about her unfair judgement?

It's not unfair judgement. It's just judgement.

If a student thinks you're a bad teacher and you had no idea they felt this way, then maybe you are a bad teacher. You need to have more awareness of your students, and don't try to blame them for not speaking up about how they felt. That's not how most people, let alone students, work.

Maybe you should take the criticism as an opportunity to evaluate yourself. Taking some actual teaching classes would a good first step.

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    +1 because poster presumed it was unfair. this isn't clear at all. – neuronet Dec 16 '15 at 19:44
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I would also suggest that you really try to not take it personally, because it may not truly be anything personal, but rather a reflection of the student's character. Looking back at the time when I was a freshman, I recognize I was a complete self-centered, entitled idiot in so many ways. I remember writing a terrible and long-winded (anonymous) review of an otherwise skilled and attentive English teacher (or so I can say looking back on it) purely on the basis of my having had a particularly rough and stressful week, combined with my teacher having given us about 5 times more writing assignments than all my friends got with their teachers. And so, feeling strongly resentful at this extra workload, and not caring about learning in those days, I took it out on this teacher. It was in no way personal, but only a sign of my own immaturity and stupidity while having a bad day. I still feel bad about it. Consider that your review might be something similar.

Were all your other reviews good? Perhaps wait and see if this bad review negatively impacts your pay or assignment, and if so, only then bring anything up about it, and contrast it with your otherwise good reviews. And if nothing comes up, forget it. If you have a regular pattern of unhappy students though, then there may be reason to reflect on your own teaching style, and perhaps even ask this student what she would have preferred you do differently to improve the course (don't ask what you did wrong).

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Are you supposed to know that it was her? Does she know that you know? Only if the answer to all of the above is Yes would I even consider approaching her to seek clarity on the subject. Even then, be mindful that you're in a position of power over her and it's easy to come across as a bully if not careful. (Mind you, I'm not justifying her approach.)

You didn't tell us what the consequences of "ruining your rating" might be.

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I find this part intriguing: "She has also written her name on top of the paper."

Did everyone write their names, or is she an exception?

If the latter, you have to consider the possibility that she did not write this review at all - that someone else wrote it, and signed with her name as part of some elaborate trolling against both you and her. (I'm assuming you can't recognize her handwriting).

Whether this observation actually helps making sense of the situation, I don't know.

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Do not confront her, especially when you are upset about it. She has finished the class (likely has left the school entirely if it's a short-course language school). Your relationship with her is over. It is simply not appropriate for a teacher to pursue a student demanding an explanation of her review of you: feedback should be mediated by the school.

Unfortunately, the review itself does not contain any information you can act on. "Does not know anything about teaching" is probably intended as an exaggeration for emphasis. None of your other students formed this opinion. No doubt your employers think otherwise or they would not have employed you. If they want to request that the student give further details about her unusual opinion, and perhaps ask whether she would like to make a more formal and detailed complaint about your teaching, then they can do so (and if she wants to she can say no). That's not so bad as you chasing the student down on your own to complain about her opinions, demand more information, or try to persuade her to admit that she's wrong.

their unfair system of evaluation at the end of each session will definitely have effects on my payment

Then your dispute is with the employer, not with the student. If they unfairly deduct your pay as a matter of rote, and not based on their own fairly-conducted assessment of your teaching, then they are the problem.

if it continues like this, I will no longer be able to continue teaching there.

Perhaps so. If the school is using negative reviews as an excuse to short-change you, rather than as a means to get detailed information to use to improve your teaching (and hence also theirs), then perhaps you are much better off without them. But you should be looking to the school to improve its processes, not looking to the students to help you avoid the consequences of its poor processes.

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I feel that you should keep silent or at least not ask her for any explanation. You thought her the best you could. Maybe she could not actually grasp whatever you taught. You should see it in a manner that the rest did not say in the same way she did and so as every other person needs to improve you too need to. But one comment or a bad rating does not make you a bad or a weak teacher.

  • I hope this helps. – Abhay Goyal Dec 15 '15 at 18:33
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    Really no need to add a comment to an answer that you hope it helps. :) Even if it is nice. – neuronet Dec 16 '15 at 19:45
  • @neuronet :It is for the person who has asked this question to tell me whether it was helpful or not. You do not need to intervene in between and atleast not tell me wht should be done as all of us are trying to help the person out. And secondly i was not trying to be nice. I was just trying to find a remedy out. And please do not comment at all if you do not know how to. – Abhay Goyal Dec 18 '15 at 8:17
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    I'm just letting you know you how the site works. People show appreciation by upvoting, that's the whole point of all these sites. Stuff like "me too" or "hope that helps" is considered noise. – neuronet Dec 18 '15 at 13:56
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This was a painful experience for you. Use the helpful answer from ff524 to reduce the level of pain... and then do something constructive:

Think about how you can improve your effectiveness and your responsiveness to student feedback.

Keep in mind that effectiveness is a two-way street. Communication and teaching involve TWO people -- a great deal depends on the receptiveness of the student, and the fit between the two people.

You can provide informal opportunities for student feedback throughout the course; and you can provide formal opportunities at various points.

For example: in the beginning of the 8-week session, ask the students to share with you, and each other, both in writing and in class discussions, what they would like to get out of the class.

And finally... seek out opportunities to improve your command of your subject, and to improve your pedagogy. One good way to do this is to observe classes, and reflect on what you think works best in teaching.

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She never, ever, complained about my teaching method during the time we had class together (...) it is in my mind to email it to her and ask for her explanation.

Can you talk to her instead? Emails can get misunderstood and you cannot read her expressions and feelings about your classes. If she didn't even miss one class, never complained before and you didn't notice any contempt from her part, there is probably something else going on...

Do not accuse her, you can simply ask her what or where you did wrong and you're likely to have a more positive feedback. From that new feedback you can act accordingly (e.g.: further explain the situation to the school management).

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You could email the picture to her tutor/future employers (cc'ing the student in) so they understand how rude and unhelpful she was.

I don't agree with this "let's be nice to students no matter what they say or do" nonsense. They should understand that actions have consequences.

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    In the US, sending this to employers would be illegal (FERPA violation) – ff524 Dec 17 '15 at 16:35
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    Even if not illegal in the OP's location, it might be considered unprofessional and/or contrary to institute policy. And remember the only evidence you have is a name anyone could have written on the feedback form. – Patricia Shanahan Dec 17 '15 at 20:28
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    Building off of ff524 and Patricia's comments, such behavior could be construed as harassment and completely in contradiction to the purpose of student evaluations. If any instructor can use unfavorable evaluations as ammunition to destroy someone's prospects - career or otherwise - there is a larger problem than a passive aggressive students. Plus, you decrying the coddling of students, this one in particular, operates under the assumption that the OP isn't a bad teacher. We don't know about OP's methods, and if they work for some that doesn't mean they work for everyone/negates any criticism – Shmoo Dec 18 '15 at 13:49

protected by eykanal Dec 18 '15 at 15:47

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