I am a university academic in my 50s. Each year, before the start of the summer vacation, written student comments are submitted to all lecturers. All are anonymous and inevitably some are good, some bad. This year, despite excellent feedback on most courses, one group has written personal and distressing remarks that have left me wondering if I’m in the right job. There is no “right of reply”, and no way of discussing this with the students or finding out which ones are so unhappy. What should I do?
Lecturer, male, 50s
Unless you want to make a fool of yourself, there is only one thing you can do: nothing. To hunt down your detractors would be hideously embarrassing and would only confirm their dim view of you.
Instead you should try to rub the hurtful remarks from your mind, and stop the pointless agonising over whether you are in the right job. I imagine it is hard enough to keep up morale as a 50-something lecturer – what with the poor pay and the jostling of younger colleagues – without the nasty jibes from students.
Console yourself with the thought that the whole business of teachers being appraised by students is absurd. It is you who is paid to be teaching them and writing reports on them, not vice versa.
In a company there may be some sense in getting underlings to pass judgment on superiors, although most such schemes are badly designed. But to allow students to say what they like anonymously about their teachers strikes me as democracy gone mad.
When I was a student we used to whip each other up into disliking various teachers for mostly stupid reasons. We used to show our dislike of one poor physics teacher by putting crocodile clips on the back of her skirt while she was writing on the board. What your students are doing sounds like a legitimised version of that; you should do what this hapless physics teacher did and simply rise above it.
That doesn’t mean you should ignore all feedback; you should rely on better ways of measuring your worth. Do your students get good marks? Do they appear to be learning anything? Do they listen to your lectures? How many bother to turn up?
These are the things that matter. Whether or not they like you is quite beside the point.