Monday, February 19
I very much wanted to title this post "Well, fuck you, too, you little, whining brat!" but I wasn't sure how that would go over. I also wasn't sure about that last sentence, but if it needs censoring, I'm sure that one of our guardian angels will deal with it.

I also thought about calling it "Not helpful my ASS," which is more apropos to the rant that's about to happen. But I'm upset enough that it needed to be stronger. So, here's the deal. I've been at my current institution for a few years now, but teaching only senior level or graduate classes, which means that my student demographic has not been the sort that uses RMP. I've been regretting this, looking forward to finally getting a rating, because my current course has a huge fraction of non-majors, just the sort to use RMP, and I'm damn good at my job -- all parts of it, even the teaching; sometimes especially the teaching -- and I had hopes of a chile pepper (I'm a geek, what can I say?).

But less than 1/3 (4 fucking weeks, before the first exam, even) into the semester, one of these new little cherubs (read "rat bastards") felt it appropriate to go and give me my first rating on the infamous site. And I got ones. Fucking ones. Even under "helpfulness" -- and I've had a total of 6 people in four weeks of office hours, so they have no way of knowing if I'm helpful or not because they won't use the supplied resources. I've arranged special tutoring assistance (free to the students) for this course which traditionally has no such thing, an evening study session out of my own time, and double the number of office hours everyone else gives. And I'm not fucking helpful? The level of pissed off I am is pretty much indescribable. I've managed not to take it out on the rest of the class, but it's hard. And if I weren't a damn good professor, I probably would.

That's the crux of the problem. I know I'm good. I know that I establish a rapport with my students -- even lecturing on extremely difficult material, I get rapid responses (often accurate ones), engaged questions, the whole deal -- I know I'm doing an amazing job with very advanced material. But these students are so spoiled and pampered (and spoon-fed, thank you very much to all the "professors" that had them before me) that they do not believe that they need to take an active role in their own education. My peer reviews are excellent; my student reviews are good; my past students come back and tell me that, even though it was appallingly hard (the nature of the material, not just me) at the time, I've made them stronger and other, later courses easier. These students come back to me for outside help, for advising, and, in some cases, to tell me that their graduate instructors (at top schools in the country) are extremely impressed with their preparation. And one lousy rating, from one under-informed, astoundingly lazy, worthless little drive-through consumer, and I feel like the floor's been cut from under me.

As academics, we're largely geeks. Performing in front of an audience is hard, and looking out at them, wondering (although I think I know) who did such a thing, who places responsibility for their education on somebody other than themselves, makes it so much worse. And damn, I want to know --- so that I can be vindictive to the right student, not to all of them. They think this is hard? Just wait -- I can make it so much worse: that the material seems at all easy is a testament to my not-inconsiderable skill. Of course, I am good, so it's only a fantasy, but its a wonderful one.


Turquoise Stuff said...

Chartreuse, I'm so sorry to hear about this! It really really sucks. It would suck even if you weren't a good prof and didn't put much time into it, but it is especially painful under these circumstances. (Of course, if you were a sucky prof, the whole rating thing probably wouldn't get to you that much anyway.)

First, a clarification for others who may have been as confused as I was: RMP refers to, right?

Well, I do think it would be unfortunate to take this out on the whole class. And you know, people who are appreciative are much less likely to let you know.. or as you noted, they let you know years later. (Just the other day I had a student tell me how helpful she found my class from a year and a half ago.. and I think she only bothered, because her advisor was encouraging her that she should let me know.)

This one person with the one rating probably has other issues and while super hard to internalize this, I think you need to step back and realize that it is in no way about you. Of course, that's nearly impossible given that the damn rating is nothing, but about you on the surface. But that's the best advice I can give, I think.

That is, generally in life, when people are that harsh, it is almost never about the target, it is almost always about themselves somehow. Again, not super helpful to know when you're being attacked, but I find it to be helpful as I reflect on the situation in a larger context and try to move on.

Do you collect anonymous feedback from your students? Maybe that would be a way to get at what it is that is bothering some of them, if you want to try to get at this in more detail. You could even set up something anon online perhaps so they are sure it's anon. Just a thought if you wanted to follow up.

But the fact is, people who evaluate in that way are usually too spineless to do anything when there is a chance of being identified.

One of my mentors once got horrible reviews from just one student for his class, and his enrollments plummeted. It was insane. It was an awesome class and just one stupid review messed it up for so many others who thus didn't take it just b/c of one stupid review. Colleges should do some educating of students on the value of reviews (or lack thereof) and some stats thrown in plus a few words about selection bias.

Again, sorry to hear it, it sucks. But it's not you and no one in their right mind (among your colleagues) will take that rating seriously (assuming they even ever see it).

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the support, Turquoise. And yes, you're correct about the site. I try not to add traffic to it, though.

Tragically, there is somebody in my department who not only trolls the cite, but is pathetic and cruel enough to read ratings out in faculty meetings. This individual actually did even more damage than this, reading out a retiring facutly's bad comments at the retirement party.

I know that the student's problem isn't actually with me, but what I fear is what you've mentioned -- the longer term impact on later students. Now, it's a small enough department that they're going to get me for this no matter what, but I know damn well that even students who would be positive will be influenced by that first rating. And yes, I wouldn't care as much if I didn't put so much into it, but I can't help it (I'm learning, though!).

It's also been suggested that, here, it's not a good idea to let the students see any sort of thing they can perceive as weakness, so that asking for too much of their feedback is a bad idea. I do ask for some -- we talk a fair amount about the different sources and what they prefer and dislike, and about the assignments, etc. Sigh.

Chartreuse Circe said...

Damn it, that was me. It dropped my identity (new blogger == stupid).

Poppy Red said...

RateMyProfessor is EVIL. E.V.I.L. I'm appalled it exists. Of course it's really important to get feedback, and I also don't think it's an especially bad idea for students to be able to share their experiences with a professor, but I just really feel that information should be passed along as it was when *I* was in college, informally, through people you know. After all, how can people even know whether or not to trust these reviews if you don't know something about the reviewer? I know which of my friends I would agree with and which ones I know have different values from mine.

Obviously Turquoise gives good advice about trying to let this go, not let it bother you, know that it's just one bad egg, etc. However, I completely understand your feelings. I would be SO pissed. I'm the kind of person who gets really upset when there's one bad evaluation in a whole class of good ones, and even when I know why the student said what s/he did, and that it's not true, I still dwell on it. But at least evals are somewhat private, unlike rate my professor (which I make a point of not looking at). The schools or the website or someone really should, as Turquoise says, put more wording on the sites to explain about selection bias, etc.

Or just take them down. Really they're just pointless and mean, and create this "us vs. them" mentality. Just take a look at, where everything is completely anonymous, and note how many students write in claiming they're misunderstood, instructors shouldn't be writing this about their students, etc, etc.

Freducha said...

Chartreuse, I know how hard it is to let a bad review go. The following research paper on RMP helped me put it all in perspective.

(Pardon the link...I am a new blogger!)

Anonymous said...

there should totally be a, so we can exchange information on kids and say things like, "he always comes to class late", "she says she reads the book, but doesn't seem prepared,", "if this kid gets on your waiting list, don't let them in!".

TheHellYouSay! said...

Well, about all I can say about how much profanity is acceptable is "However much will float your boat!" So-termed 'rating professors' is pandering. I've lost two adjunct jobs because hallway gossip campaigns and RMP posts were BELIEVED by other students. When enrollment drops, you know who's shown the door.

This "rating" crap has zero to do with anyone's competence nor "classroom efficacy" whatsoever. I didn't make it thru Ivy League on looks; I KNOW my stuff, and expect respect. Period.

This "empowering the client", student... is horseshit.