When discussing issues about teaching and teaching evaluations, there are always comments along the lines of:
- Why would a tenured full professor care about these things?
- Why even read teaching evaluations if they are so flawed?
The first part is easy to explain. Many professors at major research universities care about teaching. I am by no means alone in this respect. Getting tenure is a huge relief, but it doesn't stop us from caring about being good teachers and caring about whether our students learn what we try to teach them.
But why care about teaching evaluations? That question has a less obvious answer, in part because there are many possible answers. Speaking only for myself, I suppose I am a bit of a perfectionist, and I mine teaching evaluations for whatever useful information they might give me about how a course went and I look for clues as to what worked and what didn't. Even for courses that I teach many times, I change things from year to year, and I am interested in new input each time.
Furthermore, although I am a full professor who has been teaching reasonably well for decades, my teaching evaluations are examined as part of a post-tenure review process. At many universities, every professor is evaluated every year or so for research-teaching-service activities. When there is money available and university/union policies permit, the evaluation is used to determine merit raises. These are primarily based on research, but not entirely. You can get a merit raise for being an outstanding researcher and a mediocre teacher, but the raises become smaller or non-existent if teaching performance is dismal.
The evaluation of my teaching evaluations may also be considered as one component of the Chair's decisions about what I will teach.
Furthermore, some of my committee work involves evaluating professors who have been nominated for awards. Some awards are entirely for research, some are entirely for teaching, and some are for 'scholar-teachers' (or 'teacher-scholars'). For any award involving teaching, we look at teaching evaluations as one component of our deliberations, no matter how senior the professor.
Teaching evaluations never go away. You can ignore your own if you want, but if there are going to be people scrutinizing mine and making decisions about me, I want to know what is in them. If I am going to revise a course in format or content, I want to have some indication of what the students thought about the course.
Even my colleagues who are more interested in research than in teaching and who would be content to teach only 1 course/year nevertheless care a lot about the quality of their teaching. I know there are uncaring professors out there who would just as soon not teach at all and spend as little time as possible on their classes, but, as I've said many times before, I have only encountered a few of these. They may loom large to the students who are unfortunate enough to encounter them in a classroom and they may be favorite characters for the media to skewer when writing about research universities, but I am convinced they are a small and dwindling population.
8 years ago