It is time to reboot Teacher evaluations

At MSU and other universities, students fill out teacher evaluation forms every semester. The general idea behind these forms is to provide feedback by which teachers can improve their own performance as well as provide institutions with the information they need to improve the education system. Those ideas – while sound in principle – are often lost in the shuffle of real life. This is not acceptable. If educational institutions want to reach their full potential, then the entire concept of teacher evaluations needs to be reworked.

The role of teachers in our society and its future is immeasurable. One of the primary foundations on which a nation’s future is built is quality education, and having good teachers is essential to achieving that quality education. The only way to identify poor teaching practices is through teacher evaluations.

There are two problems of chief significance preventing teaching evaluations from being effective at MSU. One is that current evaluations often fail to give specific or useful feedback to professors. Instead they rely on superficial rating systems and an open comment section which is usually home to the occasional comment, if that, which more often than not is not particularly useful to the professor.

The second problem is that at times evaluations have little impact on a professor’s performance. Evaluations are intended for use when making decisions regarding a professor’s tenure or promotion. However, if a professor is an especially poor instructor, evaluations provide no guarantee that said professor has to improve or that they will be replaced, which creates a situation in which poor quality education can be perpetuated and protected.

How are these problems best solved? In regards to the first problem, expectations in the classroom should be clear. The bar should be no less than the success of the student — not a minimally acceptable performance, but the best possible performance. If an evaluation wishes to measure a teacher’s commitment towards and capacity to enable student success, it must be specifically worded and leave little room for alternative interpretation.

As for the second problem, the information in an evaluation should be presented in a way that it can be easily used by universities when they are making decisions about a teacher’s future in the classroom; will they continue to teach certain classes? Do they need to improve their teaching methods? At that point the consequences of said decision lie entirely upon the university. After all, the onus of education does not rest solely upon the teacher, but upon the whole institution who hires and guides the teacher.

These are the basic problems with teacher evaluations, with many subsets of lesser problems contained within. Increased recognition has lead to calls for teacher evaluation reform in all levels of education, and hopefully those calls will soon yield results. Until then students should do their best to provide the best information they can on current forms, and continue to call on universities to more effectively use that information in their decision making.