Brief attempt to forestall a few of the usual cynical comments: Yes, I care about teaching even though I am a full professor and my evaluations don't affect whether I get to keep my job. Yes, I read my teaching evaluations even though I know evaluations are flawed (except when they are really positive..).
Let's say that you feel pretty sure that your class(es) had overall gone well, and the teaching evaluations confirm that. So, if the evaluations just confirm what you already knew (or thought you knew), are they any use at all to someone like me who doesn't 'need' them?
Yes, in some ways. For example, in one of my classes last term I tried some new things: I tried a slightly new format and I introduced some new reading materials. Also, in this class the students do a lot of writing. I wanted to know what they thought about all of these things. I asked them in class and got some opinions that way, but not everyone expressed an opinion at the time. I had 100% participation in the teaching evaluations, so I got a lot more information that way. It was interesting to read that many of the students liked the writing assignments and the feedback they got on them.
And when I teach a new course -- either one that is new to me or one that I create -- it is good to get some feedback on the content and organization of the course.
Of course there are the usual vague comments: "The order of topics didn't seem quite right." End of comment. Which topics seemed out of order? What would be a better order? This information is not provided, but even vague comments like that can be semi-useful because they make you think about the organization and whether anything can be improved for next time.
After reading my teaching evaluations, I started thinking about the correspondence between professorial perception of whether a course went well and student evaluation of how the course went. Possibilities:
- Professor thought course went well : teaching evaluations agree
- Professor thought course did not go well : teaching evaluations are negative and hostile
- Professor thought course went well : teaching evaluations are negative and hostile
- Professor thought course did not go well : teaching evaluations are very positive
I think we generally know when students are happy or unhappy with a course. We may be surprised at the magnitude of the general assessment -- e.g., you might be fairly sure that a course went well and then be pleasantly surprised at how positive the evaluations are; or you might be fairly sure that a course had some rough spots but be unpleasantly surprised and distressed at the level of hostility in the comments -- but I think we generally know the result to the first order.