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I taught my first class last quarter. The results for evaluations are very polarized. The raw data shows that my scores are either very high or very low for a majority of items. That implies some students loved the class and some hated it.

Honestly, this teaching experience has been so tiring that I am seriously thinking teaching is not for me. My colleagues tell me it will get better but I am not sure how I feel about my average performance. I wish the evaluations weren't so polarized so I could know if I was overall an effective instructor or not.

How would you make sense of the results?

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    Students are under a lot of pressure and sometimes they will release it in ways that affect you (e.g. plagiarism, drama, non-constructive comments on evaluation). Try not to take it personally. – ff524 Apr 4 '16 at 19:14
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    What did the distribution of grades look like? Was the class homogeneous or did it contain students from different groups (e.g. majors vs. non-majors)? – Brian Borchers Apr 4 '16 at 19:53
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    Did the students understand the scale? In my department it is common for about 20% of positive open remarks to be accompanied by bad numerical ratings. – StrongBad Apr 4 '16 at 20:04
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    Polarization, if not heavily skewed to bad evaluation, is usually a good sign, especially with your marks profile. Not knowing anything about your course, only the marks and your evaluation, I would say you did great. You may have been hated by some, but you gave them a good education. They will see it much later. Don't worry and do not try to please everyone. Being respected is much better for a teacher than being liked. Of course, try to refine and improve, but, from the outset, this looks good. Did you face any consequences that you are worried about? Smart management ignores outliers. – Captain Emacs Apr 4 '16 at 20:31
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    I don't know. It's anonymous. I didn't give As. The ones who got As, deserved the grade. – Kar Masia Apr 4 '16 at 21:14
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Evaluations only tell you whether your students liked you or not. Your main goal, however, is to have students learn the material and develop their intellectual skills, not to have them like you.

Have experienced colleagues sit in on your classes and give you feedback, and have colleagues look at your assessments and the students' performance on them (with appropriate attention given to how you prepared the students - at an extreme, assessments mean something different (but not nothing) if you've given the students the questions and answers in advance!). This will give you much more useful information than student evaluations.

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    Just being liked is not educational. That said, I have found that a certain amount of charisma and likability helps with connecting to students and forging an educational relationship. I'd say evals tell you some less reliable info about one aspect of teaching. From my recollection as a student, many of the best teachers seemed to create the most polarized opinions among the students. – Todd Wilcox Apr 5 '16 at 2:48
  • I totally disagree. At least I, as student, have never evaluated a teacher based on whether I liked him/her or not. It may have had a slight influence, but I think that any student can understand that it is not useful to do this for a teacher you like. Therefor I think in general, we don't. – Tim Apr 6 '16 at 15:10
  • Thank you so much for the comments! If I ever teach again, I will do two things: give evaluations throughout the quarter and ask my advisors to observe my teaching. – Kar Masia Apr 6 '16 at 20:00
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From the OP's comments:

Evaluations the students gave the OP:

[...] there are like 3-4 students with really low evaluations.

Grades the OP gave the students:

I had about 20 who received As, around 12 Bs, around 10 in C range, 1 D and an F.

I don't know if I'm misunderstanding, but it sounds like in a class of 44 students, about 8% gave very poor evaluations, while the other 92% gave very high evaluations. I would say that there's some good news and some bad news here.

  • If 92% gave very high evaluations, then clearly a lot of things are going right.

  • To be unsatisfied with such high evaluations shows, in my opinion, totally unrealistic expectations.

  • The grade distribution described here is extremely inflated. It's hard to know what this means without more context. It's possible that this is at a school that has extremely inflated grades in general. (This kind of extreme grade inflation is fairly common in non-STEM courses at expensive private schools that have highly selective admissions.)

Student evaluations are basically measures of two things: (1) whether the instructor did what was expected (showed up for class, knew the subject), and (2) whether the student got the grade they wanted, without an onerous amount of effort. Evaluations are not sensitive measures of the difference between an average teacher and a great teacher.

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    Those are the grades he gave not the evaluations he received. – Joshua Apr 5 '16 at 3:39
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    @Joshua: Yes. Students' evaluations are often based on how satisfied they are with their grades. – Ben Crowell Apr 5 '16 at 5:27
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    In my university the evaluations are requested before the exam. I this way the student simply doesn't know his grade and cannot change his evaluations depending on the grade he expected. However this also means that a teacher who does a test that doesn't match his course level or program will not receive feedback from the exam in the evaluation. – Bakuriu Apr 5 '16 at 10:41
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    Where does the 92% figure come from? Even if B is considered a “very high evaluation” (which it’s not where I’m from; it’s good but not great), that's only 72%, and if we include the Cs, we get 95% rather than 92%. That grade distribution looks inflated to me, but not “extremely” inflated. Considering the complete absence of cultural context in the question, though, that is merely applying my own limited experiences and biases—just the same as that is all your answer can do. We do not have nearly enough information to make even the qualified judgments you make. – KRyan Apr 5 '16 at 13:57
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    @BenCrowell No, one exam per course. I should have written "the evaluations for a course are requested before its exam". – Bakuriu Apr 6 '16 at 5:35
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I would not sweat over it (not yet!). Not because ONLY 58% of students filled the evaluation form and definitely not from teaching your first course! Wait till you teach more courses, gather more data then re-evaluate from there. Teaching requires experience and experience comes with time.

Remember this, how many professors did you have when you were a student that you did not like? Did you not like them because you did not like the course itself? Did not like their personalities? Just because they were mean? Got a bad grade with them? Had you do too many homework, etc. the point is, many students (especially undergraduates) tend to be somehow moody when filling evaluations. I fear sometime that many of these evaluations are based on the professor's charisma, personality, the way s/he dresses, popularity than actual teaching.

One thing you can do is to collect informal evaluations every 4 weeks (or so) of the semester. So, you can see and re-evaluate your teaching methods sooner/faster. This can be done by sending online surveys to the students that let them post their reviews anonymously (You might wanna check your dept.'s rules for this first". Or maybe have short conversations with few students (A-student, B-student and C-student) to get some feed backs. Perhaps you can ask a fellow faculty member to attend your class 1-2 times to critique your teaching methods.

  • Thank you so much! If I ever teach again, I will collect evaluations throughout the quarter. And you are right! I can remember at least two professors that I evaluated harshly, and regretted later. I am trying hard not to take things personally! – Kar Masia Apr 4 '16 at 20:10
  • Sure thing! It is a journey, get the best out of it and stay positive. – The Guy Apr 4 '16 at 20:14
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Another interpretation of the results is that, it being an introductory course, was attended by people who had prior knowledge and some who had not been exposed to the content before. Those who rated you well may have been from the former camp, and found the material easy. Those who were from the later may have found your teaching to be less than effective.

On the other hand, the opposite could have been true. Take, for example, a business school that requires their Information Systems majors to take an introductory "Information Systems" class that is also required of all business students. The material could, at best, be remedial or even detrimental to covering more advanced topics in the same field because of the introductory course. (For example: Group projects where they end up doing most of the work).

Both of these scenarios are plausible. Another user mentioned getting evaluations throughout the semester. That's good, but you should also collect information about who the students are to make better use of those evaluations.

Do the students have prior experience in your subject?

  • For those with prior experience, how are they receiving the material? Is it beneficial to them? Are you essentially having a few students do a large portion of the classes work? (E.G. From the 2nd example, is there an IS major in every group (if there are group projects) who is doing 80-100% of the group work?)
  • For those without prior experience, is your material helping them? Are assessments enhancing their learning as well? Or are they spending disproportionate amounts of time on the work relative to those with prior experience?

If you can answer these questions, you can better figure out which group of students is giving you evaluations that are positive and which groups are giving you the negative evaluations. From there, you might determine that the evaluations you are giving are too easy/too hard relative to a large portion of the class. Maybe you don't even need to make a decision then. If your findings are that you have a hugely disparate class, maybe your department changes the structure of the course such that more advanced students take another class and more remedial students take another.

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    My first thought also was: probably these two types of evaluations are coming from two very different types of students. – Kimball Apr 5 '16 at 14:25
  • I think the class was designed for majors. But it's an intro level class and non-majors are expected to take it. There were several students who said the class solidified their decision to study this major. I received complaints from non-majors but I did have exceptional papers written by non-majors as well.I thought about making it easier but I was also worried that it might do disservice to those who got the material and wrote great papers. I had 14-15 students who consistently commented during class discussions. I thought that was good enough. But apparently not! – Kar Masia Apr 6 '16 at 20:12
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    I'd say that's why you have divergent reviews. You had some students who were very passionate about the field (they majored in it). Among those non-majors who did well, some of them probably had some kind of experience in it, but decided to major in it. The negatives likely came from the non-majors who may have had neither prior knowledge nor interest beyond taking it because it is required. I had a personal experience like this in my undergraduate. It was VERY hard because not only was I learning something I had no interest in, I was expected to perform as if I was majoring in it. – mkingsbu Apr 6 '16 at 21:10
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I've found that good teachers tend to be both liked and disliked - liked by those who see what they are doing and how they are handling the classroom, or for fairness, or for actually wanting students to benefit and putting in effort, disliked by those who want to skip it and want a teacher who's just marking time and putting in the hours, isn't tight on the class etc.

Mediocre teachers tend to get 'blah' average. If you were a poor teacher my guess is the polarized bit wouldn't include a lot of 'good's. That to me says something worth noting. Polarisation itself isn't the issue. But someone who can't get a chunk of above average ratings (consistently) may need to look at themselves in a way that you might not.

That said - 100% agree with previous comments too. Get some teachers you respect to watch and rate your work, and not just as a once off. But be aware teachers like anyone can get into a rutt or have different personalities and ways (not to mention teaching can get incredibly politicised and has its fair share of "One True Way" -ers), so consider anything said rather than assume its all automatically correct and decide for yourself.

Also ask your students each year - "I rate how I do too" and ask them for one thing they like and one thing they would like you to do differently. It will teach you things - and teach them that rating ones own performance is no bad thing, not a threat or criticism, not something only people 'above' do to people 'below' in a hierarchy of privilege and judgement, and a decent basic model for the future to do that for their own benefit if they wish, and example of an adult willing to do so. That if nothing else is education.

  • Thanks for taking the time and responding. As I mentioned earlier, I will ask my advisors to sit in my future classes (if I ever teach again! :) ) – Kar Masia Apr 6 '16 at 20:13
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Based on the numbers you gave, that really doesn't sound very polarized. In fact, it sounds like you received overwhelmingly positive reviews. Good job!

But perhaps I misunderstood.

If you do get polarized reviews, then two radically different types of reviews would indicate two radically different types of respondents. After all, they were all in the same class, but perceived it quite differently. If you're concerned about whether your students like you, which I think you should be but not every one does, or if there are some high stakes attached to your reviews, like salary, then you'll want to fix this.

Therefore, you'll need to take a close look at any data you have regarding your students and try to determine what this difference could be. It could be preparation, major, years in school, cultural background, aptitude in the subject, or any number of things.

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here's one suggestion:

From the results of the polarized reviews, have you considered the possibility that you showed favoritism towards some students, while neglecting others -- others who were probably very hardworking and dedicated to your course but felt relatively ignored by you?

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