The teacher in a bubble

November 4, 2011 § 8 Comments

SETs are out. As usual, I’m partly excited, partly nervous.

The Student Evaluation of Teacher (SET) is an evaluation tool used by the University of the Philippines (UP) for students to rate their teacher for a particular subject. Unlike other universities, UP does not require any peer review or academic review by a board on how a teacher conducts his/her class. You may come on the first day of class and require a project for that subject, and never see each other again until the end of the semester. You can ask students to report for the whole semester, not deliver a single lecture and grade them, and yet you still keep your job. You may require one exam per month and you can use a creative video as a final exam, and you can continue on teaching as long as you want. This is what academic freedom is all about. You’re the teacher, you call the shots. The only way that the students can come back at you, if you do anything they’re not favorable of, is by complaining. And of course, the SET.

The SET, as far as the Diliman Campus is concerned, is an online evaluation questionnaire with most sections answerable by numerical ratings 1-5. It used to be conducted with a two-page questionnaire that students eagerly finish for five minutes before the class ends. Now they have integrated it with the online registration system (better known as the CRS). Students should no longer miss the evaluation since this will be a basis for their eligibility to enroll the next semester. I would suppose that with this system, students also find more time to think about their answers.

Yet there really is that one or two outstanding evaluators that deviate from the rest of the population. When everyone else strongly agrees or just agrees, there is one or two rates on the other end of curve. You wonder, “What did I ever do to you?”

Some questions like “What are the teacher’s strong points? Areas for improvement?”, may be answered in words. Though it’s fun reading interesting and encouraging comments from students, it really breaks a teacher’s heart to see even just one nasty comment as if the student wrote it in anger.

It probably doesn’t come to their minds that teachers, like any other person, deal with several things at the same time. We try to juggle everything — think of all the tiny details from what we should include in a slide, to how we will deliver the lecture like a speech, to why do we need to teach this boring subject matter again to our class, to which interesting medium of evaluation should be carried out, to the clothes that we should wear to class. That’s just the teacher part. On other parts, we have our own projects, our own researches, our own dreams outside the university, our own issues at home, our own social agenda, our own financial struggles. When we enter the classroom, we try our best to put that behind so we can deliver the most sensible and interesting lectures. Though one individual may yawn loudly at our classes (this is annoying), or some talk in normal tones as we speak, or a couple of folks bob their heads from too little sleep the night before, we may not say anything. We try our best not to get distracted. I, for one, would allow my students to rest their head on the armchair in class as long as they don’t make noise. I would not even mind if they didn’t have notebooks to write on. You can even eat while I’m in class so long as you bring your trash out or you’re not eating anything too crunchy. Teachers try their best to be patient for all kinds of students that they may encounter. In some instances, however, students burst our bubble. Yes, there is a bubble.

No, we’re not perfect. You may not like our style. You may not like how we speak. You may probably not like our choice of Powerpoint templates. You may not like our hairdo. Heck, you may not like us just because you don’t feel like liking us. Some of us don’t feel strongly positive about other students too. We may not like the way you speak. We may not like the way you write. We may not like your fashion statement. We may even not like you just because you don’t look pleasing to us. Come on! We all have those people we do not like just because. We can’t explain it but it’s there.

Don’t get me wrong here. I may not like you but I surely don’t use that as a basis for my evaluation of a student’s performance. Teachers are not just mere evaluators and calculators. We try to consider how much effort you put in the class. We imagine. We see possible scenarios that will help improve your case. We do not deliberately fail you just because we don’t like you. We breeze through your mistakes and gaze back at the times you responded and participated in class before we stare at our spreadsheets again. We think long and hard before we give that failing “5.0”.

No, we don’t take things personally. You want grades? Let’s compute. If you ask for a higher grade, we will think about it. So many instances, it has been said, “Ask and you shall receive.” It’s possible.

Looking at this particular SET, this particular outlier, and that particular phrase, just makes me want to rewind my head’s photographic memory storage to all those classes we have attended and hit pause to where I may have made a mistake. Sometimes, I just can’t find it.

It. Breaks. My. Heart. Not. Knowing. Where. I. Have. Gone. Wrong.

Coming back to the campus, you try to put a face on that angry comment and each time you see your students from that class, you wonder, “Were you that person whom I have offended?” It’s a sucky feeling, if there is such a term.

We are not perfect. We try to do our best but sometimes we fail on that too. Sometimes we wish everyone understood. Sometimes we wish they were more mature just so they would think differently. All we can do is sigh.

At the end of the day, no matter how hard you try to, you can never really satisfy everyone. There will always be that one person who will feel strongly disappointed in you, or just plain negatively affected towards you. You may never really get it. And you can never do anything about it but just accept that fact, and be open-minded for comments, suggestions, and criticisms.

As long as it doesn’t kill you in your sleep, you should be fine.


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