One of the scholarship fund-raising activities my University hosts is an event called “Class Acts.” It’s a talent night where faculty and staff put on an evening of entertainment, and all proceeds from the ticket sales go towards Entrance Scholarships. It’s a fantastic evening, often resulting in many surprises – who knew that our registrar was an Opera singer, or that one of our librarians participates in poetry slams?
The first year I went, I was surprised to see a guitar-playing, singing duo on the program with members from the both the Biology and the Women and Gender Studies departments. I struggled to figure out how such a pairing would have happened, before remembering that sometimes the Arts and the Sciences CAN make beautiful music together.
What was particularly memorable though, was the topic of their performance; it was a hilarious song talking about ratemyprofessor.com. I had never heard of such a thing, and as they harmonized about the nerve-wracking trauma of chili rankings and student commentary, I weighed the pros and cons of the existence and functionality of such a site.
At the time, I had just begun a pre-master’s course, and was waiting to find out if I would be accepted into the graduate program. Would I use a site like that? And if so, would I offer rankings, or simply check out the commentary? And who cares about how “hot” they are, anyway? I’m not sure I wouldn’t find a faculty member’s hotness to be a deterrent really.
I found navigating the relationships with my instructors to be fairly smooth for the most part. At one point, I was taking a course with the woman who was Chair of a committee I support. Another time, I was taking two courses at once with my Advisor. I had preconceived notions, opinions and relationships with all but two of the professors who taught me.. So honestly, what would checking out ratemyprofessor.com really do for me anyhow? But I was curious, so mid-way through my program, I checked out some of the rankings to see if popular opinion meshed with my own.
What I saw on the site was so utterly incongruent from my experiences that I had a hard time reading through most of it. They struck me as so completely immature and ridiculous that I couldn’t even find them laughable. The instructor that I found to be terrible, everyone thought was “hot,” “awesome” and “cool” while the woman that I adored got raked over the coals.
But I had a nagging doubt in the back of my mind. Yes, I found the “cool” instructor to be completely irresponsible (not hot) and awful. And yes, I found the so-called “terrible” instructor to be delightful, but who’s right really? Opinions are subjective of course, but I wonder if I might actually be so completely biased that I can’t judge properly.
That is a part of it, of course, but I realize there’s another layer to consider. The “cool” instructor taught material I loved, and I walked into the class already really liking her. She converted me to the negative end of the spectrum via her teaching style, while maintaining my interest in the course. It was neither dislike of the topic nor predisposition that made me dislike her instruction.
More importantly, I came to understand that it was my job that impacted my lack of faith in those rankings. I take part in discussions on program proposals, curricular development and research. I know what kind of time and effort does (and should) go into teaching courses, and my evaluation of the professor is influenced by that background.
I eventually concluded that the rankings might have meaning, but they just weren’t useful for me; there were too many factors against it. They did however force me to acknowledge the attitudes I held prior to walking into each class. And while there’s little I can do about them, I hope that acknowledging their existence was useful for something. And on reflection – perhaps they ARE useful for students in their decision-making process, as long as they remember to take those rankings with several grains of salt. Maybe I should perform my own song about it at the next scholarship fundraiser
This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed