Wednesday, December 15, 2010

In Praise of

The term is ending and the usual comments appear at the site. I have come to look forward to the sour grapes kvetching and the occasional perceived need of students who appreciated my classes to defend my honor.

In all honesty, my ego is secure enough these days to read these comments without too much apoplexy. I was recognized by the university last year with their naming me to one of only 18 Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Awards given out university wide and I am awaiting notice on my application for a Fulbright-Hays scholarship this summer. Ultimately, I don’t really need my ego stroked by a consumerist online survey site to feel like I’m doing a pretty decent job.

While my ratings at remain Average, the comments are always telling, inevitably more about the student than the instructor. The most recent entry comes from a student in my World Religions course. The student’s ratings in the categories of easiness, helpfulness and clarity resulted in an Average rating consistent with my longitudinal rating there. One would not know that, however from the shrill comments that follow:

Avoid at all costs! Worst professor ever. Crazy amount of work and unrealistic expectations. Impossible to get an A.

It’s probably helpful to address these comments in reverse order. First, in terms of grading, 5 of the 13 students got an A. That’s 38% of the total class. What the student is revealing here is that s/he did not get one of those As. And given their comments here, it’s not surprising.

As for the work load, the World Religions course has one of the lower work loads of all the classes I teach. I do assign a critical précis exercise to insure students read and critically consider the texts, such exercises designed to insure students show up to class prepared to discuss the material. The reading generally takes up to an hour and a half per chapter and the précis will not take the average student more than a half hour, assuming they have actually read the material and not merely skimmed it (which becomes apparent immediately upon reading the précis).

Now, that’s two hours total. And, for the average college class, that’s the average reasonably expectable prep time instructors should be able to expect students to spend without complaint, much less the histrionics evidenced here. And, given that the readings generally are discussed over two class sessions, that makes the average time required even less.

What’s troubling is hearing an honors student claim that an average to less than average prep time is somehow a “crazy amount of work.” What might constitute reasonable here?

As for whether I’m the “worst professor ever,” I’d say this student has probably not had many professors. Indeed, the student rated this class as “average.” That’s hardly “the worst professor ever” unless the professors the student has taken outside this class have all been well above average. Somehow I have to doubt that.

Having been a student in higher education for some 17 years total, I am aware that there are good professors and there certainly are some bad professors. I’ve survived a few myself. But a professor who pushes honors students to put in an average amount of prep time and then holds their final products to a slightly higher standard of grading than a non-honors student’s work product is hardly evidencing “unrealistic expectations.” Indeed, such a professor is merely doing their job.

Ratings like this could give an instructor a complex. Of course, I realize that anonymous online sites like this are worth what you pay for them. Anyone can put in their .02 worth including people who’ve never even been in the course. And, as noted above, the only folks who come to such sites in the first places are those with axes to grind (including the student who made, at worst, a C+ in this class) or those who feel the need to let their classmates know that they can get an easy A in a given course. And then there are the occasional self-appointed defenders of the honor of the instructors students feel have been unfairly depicted. Virtually every instructor has their cheering section as well as those who see them as the antichrist. I understand my supporters call themselves the Cuv-Luv Clan. Cute.

So why “In Praise of” Simple. The truth is, that if a student is lazy, has an enormous sense of entitlement and is prone to register their discontent when that entitlement is not rewarded in my classes, I’d prefer them to not come through the door of my classroom in the first place. If this rating service helps prevent that mismatch of serious college instructor with inordinately self-focused slacker, all parties are well served by such ratings.

In all honesty, I’m sorry the student who wrote this review had such a bad experience. I am enough of a Myers-Brigg Feeler to want everyone to be happy with my classes, as unrealistic as that may be. I suspect that had the student come to talk with me during office hours (and only one of the students in this class ever did so), perhaps they could have gained a little better sense of why I demand what I do from honors students and why, in the long run, it is in their best interest that I do so.

Even with this response, I suspect that somewhere down the road, this student will realize that having been forced to take seriously the project of learning about world religions in an increasingly globalized world culture was ultimately a major favor to them. While I don’t suspect they’ll drop me a line to tell me as much or add a corrective entry at this mindless consumerist website, I do have a hunch that one day they may regret this very self-revealing entry if ever so slightly.

In the meantime, I’m just thankful that their warning may prevent any of their fellow slackers from inflicting themselves upon my courses and the generally fine students they draw. I’m sure their slacker soulmates can find the classes which won’t demand much of them and will reward their mediocrity in the meantime. But more importantly, we will both be spared the irritation of dealing with honors students who resent being called to work up to their potential as well as their mindless, angst-driven ratings at at the end of the term.

Isn’t that just like the entitlement culture – everyone is a winner!


The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, Ph.D., J.D., M.Div.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.

1 comment:

Amy said...

I've never heard "Cuv-Luv Clan," but I do remember that one Philosophy of Law student called you "the gay lawyer priest" (abbreviated GLP), and that name caught on within the department for about the whole two years I was at UCF.

I like RateMyProfessor because if someone who fails to use punctuation correctly or doesn't like the handy-dandy "shift+" function on his/her keyboard didn't like a class I can take that as a ringing endorsement. It's an extremely useful site.