Thursday, January 31, 2008

Don't Want to Know

Last Friday I received the FCQ (faculty course questionnaire) results for my Fall TA. I found them in my department mailbox just as I was heading home at the end of the day. I immediately decided that I didn't want or need the stress of finding out what my students really thought about me; it would be quite the crimp on my weekend plans. Granted these plans were just writing and reading assorted papers, but the mood needed to be positive.

I did take the summary sheets with me. I have no fear of numbers, just of whatever comments might have been written in that little white space devoted to letting students air their true thoughts. I have no illusions about this. There will be nothing as entertaining as that list of comments from MIT that circulated the web so many years ago, and I doubt that there will be all that much positive. I fall prey to traditional psychology anyway; a few negative comments would have more of a negative impact on my mood than the same number of positive comments.

The numbers revealed precisely what I expected. On a scale of 1 to 6, I got 4's on just about everything (the exception being Respect for Students. I maxed out respectfulness). This is below the average for my Department, Division, and Campus, but I consider this a success. There was no comparison group for a first-time TA who was given two lab sections for an upper-division course with no instruction or guidance beyond "teach them how to do research". I made a lesson plan from scratch, I made assignments from scratch, I graded with no more guidance than "don't fail anyone who does the work", and I got reasonable scores on median.

The comments, on the other hand, will reflect all the variation that the median doesn't capture. I received in-person complaints about the about the grading methods (that I shouldn't take off points for grammar because it wasn't an English class) and the work load (more in the lab than the lecture, as if this were not the point of lab classes); I came down hard on a plagiarism problem, which should also come up somewhere.

If I work on anything, it would be my Effectiveness at Encouraging Interest in the Subject Matter. I like the topic, and even with a class full of students who enrolled because they liked the professor I could have made more of an effort at helping my students like it as well.

And then, months from now, when I wind up TA for another class, I might actually look at the comments.

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