Real Live Prof

I don’t like being evaluated. I always get nervous, and when I am nervous, I sweat. Not pretty. Oh, I understand on every intellectual level why we need to be evaluated as teachers.A+

We can always improve something.

It keeps us honest and trying to do our best.

We need to be accountable to others.

It should keep us humble.

Really, I get it; but not on an emotional and reactionary level. Last Spring, my Dean sat through a class, evaluating me. He had asked which day was best, and so we were both prepared. I presented my very “best” lecture. He was complimentary, and made several really helpful suggestions. When I next met with the class they, too, had plenty of “helpful” critiques: They asked me what happened to the usual Prof, because he certainly was not there last time. They said I was a phony just putting on some show that day. Strangely, I appreciated these critiques as much as my Dean’s critiques.

My students may not have realized it, but they were agreeing with Erving Goffman, a sociologist who was very much interested in how we present ourselves (Presentation of self). He used theater language to describe people as mere actors, who present lines and images and use props to make points. We have a front stage which is public and a backstage that we guard from the public. (My wife, a second grade teacher, is always amused when she meets her students at Wal-mart because they are amazed that she too, has to shop for stuff. Shouldn’t she have “people” do that for her?) Ironically, a part of the Dean’s review of my teaching effort was that the students did not seem very concerned with taking notes or paying attention. He suggested that weekly quizzes might help motivate them to greater attention and general preparedness. (So the joke is on the students this year because we now have weekly quizzes.)

Another part of my reactance against evaluation is hubris. I want to believe that my “good enough” is great and that I cannot possibly have room for improvement. At this point I am reminded of my two older kids, who both loved sports in high school. However, they did not love practice. In fact, they hated it so much they would invent illnesses and injuries that would keep them home during practice. They wanted to believe, as I want to believe about my teaching, that they could just show up for the games, without practicing, and be awesome.  Maybe that is why they were so pleased to get participation trophies.

In the end, I want more than a participation trophy. Paul said it this way in 1 Corinthians 9:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.  Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize

Now I have reinforced my intellect, will someone please instruct my heart to relax and know that constructive criticism is, well, constructive? Maybe next time when I am evaluated in class, the Dean and the Students will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant”.

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Mark Miller

Associate Professor of Sociology at East Texas Baptist University

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4 thoughts on “Real Live Prof

  1. Mark,
    Thanks for speaking for all of us when we are being reviewed. I can’t help but wonder, though: why is it that our definition of a good evaluation is “well done” and not “here’s how do to better”?
    Theologically, I know I’m not perfect, and spiritually I want to improve each day. And yet, when someone cares enough to show me how I might improve, I become defensive!

  2. Dr. Miller,
    I totally agree with your comments on the pressures of evaluation. Sometimes I think about it like trying to fit in with a much higher economic class.#1 I don’t like it. #2 I change my language and mannerisms. 3. Just the whole show aspect. One feels like they’re almost watching their own performance in a mirror judging and questioning every move I make.
    Valuable feedback is usually only offered where there is already a valued relationship. It’s hard to take “constructive” criticism from someone who you are quite frankly scared to be judged by. Not passing the buck, but this seems to have been my experience.

    • I hope you don’t sweat as much as I do! Erving Goffman would have loved your “Stage” language because he developed a whole theory about impression management. Sadly, the people you trust the most are probably the least likely to give you the feedback you really need. They care about you and choose concern for critique. Thanks for reading and commenting! M

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