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What makes a teacher great?  This can be a tricky question to answer.  Some have said that a great teacher inspires students. Others contend that it is simply how well a teacher relays information. And yet for others, it is something more elusive.

To try and answer this important question, UCI has taken an objective approach: they ask students at the end of every quarter through teacher evaluations. For students, teacher evaluations are one of the only methods in our possession of reporting to the school just how good or bad a teacher is. For teachers, their livelihood depends on evaluations. They can make or break a review, which in turn can impact raises, promotions and, in the worst cases, extinguish employment. At best, evaluations allow for criticism and reflection, as well as praise and encouragement. They can let a teacher know if an experimental teaching method worked or if it needs adjustment. A lot is riding on how we use teacher evaluations and yet, at UCI, the implementation of them is sorely lacking.

The first problem inherent in teacher evaluations is timing. The evaluations open too close to course finals, when many students are still feeling the crunch of their exams by the time the evaluation window closes. This leaves very little time for stress-free reflection on the experience shared by the student. This is perhaps the biggest reason for the low turnout on evaluations. Students cannot rightly be bothered to evaluate their professor when finals are around and G.P.A.’s are on the line. The only students incentivized are those borderline cases of professor love and hate.

That brings us to the second problem of teacher evaluations: borderline cases. Truly only those students who care enough to fill out their evaluations are those who have either felt scorned by the teacher or those that performed exceptionally in the classroom. The voice of students left in between is lacking. It can be said that these fringe students are not as objective in the evaluations and therefore do not voice what is reality. Evaluations should be grounded on the opinion of all the students and not just the haloed A’s and the angry others. Without the voice of the majority, how can performance reviewers actually review teacher performance? The answer is they can’t.

Lastly, evaluations do not go far enough in evaluating what UCI students really care about. According to a video put out by the Department of Undergraduate Education, students at UCI have identified three major areas in teacher performance: passion, relevance and respect. The evaluations do little to accord for this. Measures of the three areas should be made available on the evaluations, as well as providing a robust review of student comments.

If the UCI faculty is to take teaching performance seriously, a thorough overhaul of the evaluation process is needed. Teacher evaluations should be mandatory or worth extra credit in every class. The deadlines should be extended into the quarter breaks to allow more time for reflection and for the stress of finals to taper off. Finally, the evaluations themselves should be changed to reflect what is really important to students at UCI: passion, relevance and respect.

 

Kingsley Abel is a third-year psychology and social behavior major. He can be reached at abelk@uci.edu.

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