Those manila envelopes that contain the student teacher evaluations are a fixture at Castleton State College. The form asks students to grade professors in several different areas.They are filled out for every class. They are filled out for every teacher. They are filled out every semester. And they are very, very redundant. But just how important are they?
“I think they are very important,” Tersh Palmer, a member of the Reappointment, Promotion and Tenure committee, and English professor, said about the forms.
Palmer is serving his second semester on the RPT committee, which reviews all the evaluations and submits recommendations for reappointment and tenure to the deans.
But it’s not only the faculty and administration that find the evaluations important. Students share that sentiment as well.
“It is really important that we do these teacher evaluations, because I’ve heard that they are really read and we do have the power to get a teacher fired if they are a bad teacher,” said Victoria Vondle, a theater art major. “Not that I go around writing bad evaluations just to get rid of people … it is important for the administration to know when we have good teachers because they seem to be harder and harder to find these days.”
Which is exactly the point of the teacher evaluations – to better understand the strengths of individual teachers, school officials say.
The evaluations, which are outlined in the teacher contract, are used in the teaching effectiveness portion of the reappointment and tenure process. Once the evaluation is filled out by the class and delivered to the administration office they sit patiently until the RPT committee reviews them.
Also included in the teaching effectiveness portion of the evaluation are any letters written about the instructor and any observations done by deans or chairpersons.
That information, combined with scholarly and professional activity as well as any service to the college and community, gets reviewed as a whole and a recommendation is sent to the Academic Dean Joseph Mark. Mark then reviews the RPT committee’s recommendation, makes his own recommendation and forwards that information on to school President Dave Wolk for a final review.
“We have to take everything into consideration,” Mark said. “I think it’s a fairly good form, but it probably could be improved.”
Dean Mark hears complaints from faculty about the vagueness of the form and how they would prefer the information to be compiled into a computer program. The program would allow for statistics such as averages and means to be easily accessed.
The administration has taken the complaints from the faculty and students into consideration and has agreed to meet in the spring about potential changes. The oversight group, as outlined in the teacher agreement, will be made up of administrators, faculty and students to brainstorm possible improvements to the evaluation system.
Regardless of some flaws that may exist with the current evaluation, Mark feels confident that the form serve its purpose and students generally take them seriously.
“I like the scale used to respond,” Mark said. “It invites them to give free responses . most of the responses are positive.”
The dean admits that not all are positive, but regardless of the tone they must all be looked at objectively.
“If there is a pattern of criticism that seems specific about certain aspects of the course, that has to be taken seriously,” Mark said.
Matt Donelly, a student at CSC, feels that the forms serve as an important aspect of the evaluation process.
“I don’t really mind doing them, because I do think that they are influential to both the school board and the teacher,” Donelly said, although he admits that he doesn’t put much thought into them. “I usually write – word for word – I like them. They are good.”
Those who benefit the most from the evaluations are the teachers themselves who get to read anonymous feedback about their teaching.
Dennis Shramek, chair of the English department, enjoys reading his evaluations and thinks that most professors share his opinion.
“I suspect all the faculty reads through the evaluations and the best of the faculty take the comments into consideration,” Shramek said.
Shramek remained tight lipped about any comments that have stuck out, but did state that most students are kind with their words.
“Generally they are quite pleasing to read,” Shramek said.
Tersh Palmer feels similarly to Shramek about the general theme of the evaluations and recalls that his most memorable evaluation is one that he isn’t sure if it’s a compliment or an insult.
“I got one from a first year student that said, ‘I just can’t enjoy a movie without thinking about gender,'” Palmer recalled.