Why should they tell the truth?

When I wrote an evaluation of a part-time faculty member, I once started out by saying he taught in the traditional lecture style. This is not a favorable comment, because most people know that this is not the best way for students to learn math. What I said after that was favorable, but what I didn’t say wasn’t. He was boring. He knew his stuff, covered an interesting example with clear explanations, and students could learn from him. I’ve sat through a number of part-time lectures, but this one almost put me to sleep.

Any motivated student would find him a good teacher. He was clear and  knowledgable. I had no reason to offend him by criticizing him. He came to my office afterwards and asked me to fix a typo on the evaluation and sign it. I did so, knowing he was leaving. He was one of our many retirees who came to work part-time as a retirement job. He brought incredible lifetime experience to the job, as many of them do. Sometimes they come for the money, but more often they come to keep busy. This man wanted to move to be near his son, but wanted a recommendation so he could continue working.

It is not my job to keep faculty in our department, but I try to write evaluations that are both truthful and not offensive. I don’t want them to get angry and leave. Sometimes I am able to point out correctable problems, and some people that I’ve done this to have seemed to appreciate it.

A boss has a different problem. He wants his good workers to stay and his bad workers to leave. He is motivated to give good workers bad letters of recommendation and poor workers … Well, you get the idea. Sometimes a person can get a good letter of recommendation from a former supervisor, but if someone has worked with the same people for a long time, he might find it impossible to leave.

Years ago, I had a student who kept coming to me for help. He constantly praised my teaching. Eventually he started catching on, and the praise disappeared. I was apparently a better teacher while he was doing D work than when he was doing C work. This is one reason I rarely believe students who make favorable comments about my teaching. Why should they tell the truth?

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