Stepping in it Right Out the Gate, But Surviving: My Spring Course Evaluations

This past semester I made the most stupid classroom blunder of my career (thus far, anyway).  It was the first day of the required undergraduate research methods (stats) class, and we are required to take roll on the first day.  On the first day some classes tend to sit quietly, only some students chatting among themselves.  This group of around 120 was very engaged, and had become quite loud.  Further, the classroom was large, with a capacity of around 300, and a two story ceiling.  As such, the professor at the podium is not a strong focal point, and more or less none of the students noticed when I walked up to it, ready to begin class.  I had arrived about 5 minutes prior, and had put on some music, which had long since been drowned out as the number of students, and attendant chatter, had grown.  To get their attention, I rammed to volume to its maximum, and then quickly dropped it.  Despite the fact that the classroom is three years old and has an excellent sound system that produced a remarkable, and to myself, who was operating the controls, jarring, jolt of sound, few students broke off their conversations (I would estimate around 20% did so).  I was stunned, and spread my arms, making that “you’re kidding, right?” gesture?  So I gave them my best Buggin Out “Yo!”

BugginOut

And they all stopped, and yanked their heads in my direction.  This had me thinking: “Really?  You don’t notice the really loud burst of music, but you hear me shout “Yo!”?  WTF, are you stupid?”  Here’s the problem.  That last part, “Are you stupid?”, that not only ran through my brain, I actually said it out loud.  Yup, you read that correctly, I began the semester by shouting: “Yo!,” and then once I had their attention I asked, in irritation, “Are you stupid?”  And with that my internal dialogue became: “Are you fucking kidding me?  Did you just say that?  What’s your plan, now, moron?”

That provides some context for this student’s evaluation:

Ahole

Well, as you can imagine I had some un-digging to do.  My plan had been to show them some selected evaluations from the last time I had taught the course (both pro and con) as an attempt to give them a sense of what to expect, then take roll, and dismiss them.  I had no immediate thoughts to how to recover from such an idiotic opening, so I forged ahead.  And that provides some context for understanding some of this next student’s evaluation (and as anyone who is cool, knows, Willis is the cool nickname for Will).

Willis is a cool dude

With those bookends, the remainder of this post are quotes from the positive and negative written comments I got in the course.  As you can see, despite getting off to about as poor a start as can be imagined (feel free to share in comments what you think would be worse), I managed to be effective.  But damn, that was a stressful first few minutes as I tried to drive the berating voice out of my head and begin the task of constructing an effective relationship with the crew.  Oh, you might wonder whether I have ideas about who wrote what.  Nope.  But whoever that first (presumably male, based on handwriting) student was, I gotta say, I think I understand where he was coming from.

Professor is funny.  Tries to make up for the pedantic course material.

The substitute TAs taught significantly better.  The tests are designed to fail students. This course is an unfair, institutionalized road block to the success of political science majors… Everyone know this course is totally FUCKED.

I like that the course helps you to think about & learn different materials.  Professor Moore tried to it interesting and understandable.

Don’t speak Greek all semester.

Absolutely incredible professor.  It was fun to come to class. Professor Moore made dull content interesting and I learned a lot.  Don’t change anything, great professor.

Sometimes you were very difficult to follow – you misspeak a lot and when you correct yourself it often gets confusing.  You also get off topic a lot which makes the class more interesting, but harder to follow.

I really enjoyed your teaching style.  I appreciate that you tried to make enjoyable a generally uninteresting subject.  I wish you would have explained things more…  I am lost… I love you as a teacher, but this course is too hard.

Instructor was accessible to students, very helpful.

I honestly learned more from your TA Natalia Borden than from the whole course.  She was engaged and help us review understand the major concepts of the whole course.  I was really interested in doing research and this class has discouraged me.

I learned a lot of statistics I didn’t expect to learn.  Seems like a good foundation for future classes related to political science research… Would recommend the instructor!

Does not always communicate effectively.  Would like more examples.

Very clear / communicates well.  You the man Moore

@WilHMoo

About Will H. Moore

I am a political science professor who also contributes to Political Violence @ a Glance and sometimes to Mobilizing Ideas . Twitter: @WilHMoo
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5 Responses to Stepping in it Right Out the Gate, But Surviving: My Spring Course Evaluations

  1. saideman says:

    By posting this, you are da man! Evals in a big class can be so ego-crushing. Even if one gets only a few negative ones, they tend to resonate more than the positive ones.

  2. saideman says:

    There was the time I hit a student in the face with a frisbee when I was trying to demonstrate most similar and most different comparisons.

  3. Bill Ayres says:

    I am fascinated by the ability of students in exactly the same class to have such totally different experiences. I’ve seen this many times in my own career. I have always thought that there is a reliability problem with student evaluations.

  4. Alisha Singh says:

    Crash courses are important to brush up and a quick glance of the material studied before . Doubt clearing sessions that benefits both new and old aspirants This GATE course provides a Quick guide to most troubling section of GATE 2014 exam – Engineering Mathematics. To brush up skill visit :
    http://www.wiziq.com/course/19502-gate-2014-ies-2013-engineering-mathematics-crash-course

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